New book brings NZ film into fo­cus


A wiz­ard has waved his wand of ap­proval over a new book about New Zealand film.

Sir Ian McKellen, who played the wiz­ard Gan­dalf in The Lord of the Rings, has writ­ten the fore­word for New Zealand Film: An Il­lus­trated His­tory.

Edited by a group of movielov­ing Welling­to­ni­ans, the book charts the his­tory of New Zealand film. Film Archive di­rec­tor Diane Pi­vac spent five years com­pil­ing the book and was thrilled to have McKellen add his touch.

‘‘He is a big fan of New Zealand film, so we were very lucky to get him to do that. We feel very spe­cial,’’ she said.

Pub­lished by the Film Archive and Te Papa, New Zealand Film cov­ers more than 100 years of movie his­tory, start­ing with the in­tro­duc­tion by Ge­orge Haus­mann of the kine­mato­graph pro­jec­tor in 1896 for the screen­ing of vaude­ville films.

‘‘ It re­ally is a won­der­ful overview of mov­ing-mak­ing and mov­ing-go­ing in New Zealand,’’ Pi­vac said.

‘‘Peo­ple think New Zealand film started with Sleep­ing Dogs [in 1977], but it goes back so much fur­ther.’’ As well as cov­er­ing film pi­o­neers Ru­dall Hay­ward and Len Lye and clas­sics such as Good­bye Pork Pie and Smash Palace, the book delves into lesser-known top­ics, in­clud­ing gov­ern­ment films, the pop­u­lar­ity of home movies and the pioneer­ing of film tech­nol­ogy.

Pi­vac said New Zealan­ders’ No 8 wire men­tal­ity was salient in the film in­dus­try from its early days.

‘‘ When Hol­ly­wood first had sound, they kept the se­cret of how to do that for a long time, so New Zealan­ders came up with their own way to pro­duce sound.

‘‘And at the film­ing of the [1950] Em­pire Games in Auck­land, film­mak­ers built rigs that health and safety would never al­low now. So you get the idea of how equip­ment has changed.’’

What has not changed is New Zealan­ders’ pen­chant for home movies. There was a ten­dency to think ama­teur mov­ing-mak­ing was a re­cent past-time, but Pi­vac said it went back to the 1950s and 60s.

‘‘ For in­stance, we [ the Film Archives] have a huge num­ber of ama­teur record­ings of the Queen’s visit in 1953. Ev­ery­one there must have had a cam­era.’’

She said one of the most in­ter­est­ing chap­ters in the book was about gov­ern­ment films.

Be­tween 1918 and 1941, the Gov­ern­ment Pub­lic­ity Of­fice pro­duced short films about New Zealand’s scenery, cre­ated sub­ti­tles for silent movies and in­tro­duced news­reels to the coun­try. ‘‘There’s footage of the 1931 Napier earth­quake and, man, that footage is so sim­i­lar to the Christchurch earth­quake footage,’’ Pi­vac said.

The Gov­ern­ment

Pub­lic­ity Of­fice be­came the Na­tional Film Unit in 1941, when Cab­i­net de­cided to screen news of New Zealand’s war ef­fort.

Pi­vac said the book also showed how so­ci­ety had changed over the years. Early pho­to­graphs de­pict film-mak­ers and movie-go­ers dressed in three-piece suits. Our view­ing tastes have also changed, though per­haps not that much, said Pi­vac.

‘‘There are so many films of con­tests – baby con­tests, hair-cut­ting com­pe­ti­tions, beauty com­pe­ti­tions. The funny thing was that you voted for your favourite con­tes­tant. They were fore­run­ners to re­al­ity tele­vi­sion, I sup­pose.’’

Pi­vac said there were plenty more gems and read­ers should en­joy dis­cov­er­ing them. The book, which costs $85, comes with a DVD of short movies and clips.


On film, in print: Diane Pi­vac was pleased Sir Ian McKellen put his flour­ish­ing touch to her book, New Zealand Film: An Il­lus­trated His­tory.

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