Celebrating 40 in Wellington
Selecting just one film from the thousands we have screened, to celebrate this year’s milestone seemed impossible – until we heard about a new digitised restoration of one of the great hits of our first decade. Coming at the end of an era when every Spanish film worth its salt was an encrypted dispatch about life under Franco, Cría Cuervos, shot the year of his death, beguiles with its evocation of trans-generational mysteries – and leaves audiences as addicted as its young protagonist to the Spanish pop song ‘Porque te vas’.
We’ve invited selected Wellingtonians and long-time associates of the Festival to relate Festival-related stories, and we’ve collected some funny and wonderful recollections of the way we were.
- Lindsay Shelton
- Miranda Harcourt
- Bill Sheat
- Gaylene Preston
- Paul Maunder
- Robyn Harper
- Celia Wade-Brown
- Andrew Armitage
- Denise Liddle
- Carol Kisby
- John Reid
- Michael Heath
- Kerry Robins
- David Lindsay
- Tom Cardy
- Rosemary Cooper
- Geoff Steven
- Ruth Halliday
- Richard King
- James Every-Palmer
- Kevin Thomas
- Michelle O'Donnell
- Ross Turner
- Russell Campbell
- David Jenkinson
"The audience cheered. The four-letter words were heard. The world didn’t end. But the censor said he would do us no more favours. It was inevitable, therefore, that we became involved in the fight for censorship reform." Founding director Lindsay Shelton looks back at the first 10 years of the Film Festival.
"I first dated my husband at the Festival, he asked me to a movie." - Actor Miranda Harcourt reveals the ways the Film Festival has changed her life.
"In the early 1970s, the Mexican Government offered a touring exhibition called Portrait of Mexico. It carried with it a Mexican film festival which we were obliged to take." Bill Sheat, founding chair of the NZ Film Festival Trust, remembers the time the Mexican films came to town.
"One day in July, I came to work and they said, “We don’t work now – we go to the film festival." Filmmaker Gaylene Preston remembers her introduction to the Festival.
"[Poland] was quite an amazing experience, which concluded with my returning to New Zealand on election night to witness the victory of Robert Muldoon." Filmmaker Paul Maunder looks at the political changes that led to his first Festival appearance.
"Film is a fabulous medium - it can entertain, delight, elucidate, provoke and captivate (and sometimes frighten us). We are swept into a world of the imagination where anything can happen, if only for a couple of hours!" Mayor of Wellington Celia Wade-Brown celebrates the Festival.
"During one of the busiest periods we sustained a burglary where all the cheques where stolen. Major panic ensued as we contacted all patrons to cancel their cheques and re-issue. The booking sheets were untouched so order was restored and everyone was accommodated." Former Paramount owner Carol Kisby remembers the early years of the Festival.
"And sometimes memorable events offscreen – men of the Greek community stomping out during Angelopoulos’s Travelling Players and Les Blank slyly grilling garlic up the back as we drooled at his Garlic Is As Good As Ten Mothers." John Reid of the NZ Film School shares his favourite festival memories.
"I was called into the editor's office, and given a severe reprimand. He looked very unhappy. My review, the editor said, was for intellectuals, and I should stick to writing about more populist fare. "Remember, you're writing for the man in the street, Mike," he told me."Filmmaker reviewer Michael Heath remembers his coverage of the 1978 Festival.
"The brain surgery scene had the biggest impact and seemed to trigger the audience reaction. During its season at the Paramount and as the scalpel began to make its incision, folk fled the auditorium in search of the nearest toilet." Former Embassy theatre operator Kerry Robins recalls the chaotic reactions to a certain film in 1996.
"By the time of the third festival I decided that there should be a souvenir programme. The Film Society minutes record that I was going to prepare a 16-page booklet, but not the fact that I had to convince the committee that it was a good idea." Wellington Film Society president David Lindsay looks back at his early publishing initiative.
"They were heady days and my abiding memories are of excitement, enthusiasm, exhaustion and exhilaration."Rosemary Cooper, first administrator of the Festival, reflects on her favourite memories.
"The Prime Minister Robert Muldoon snapped “who paid for it?” as he hurried out. I could satisfactorily reply, “A university lecturer,” which I knew was one of his least favourite occupations." Geoff Steven looks back at his experimental film Test Pictures, the first NZ feature to appear in the Festival.
"That year we were also scared (and amused) by Servants of the Devil and The Werewolves of Washington but it is The Cars that are Paris that we remember." Former Wellington Film Society president Ruth Halliday fondly recalls Peter Weir's cult classic feature debut.
"Following closely on the heels of the Taviani brothers’ ravishing Kaos and completely at the other end of the scale, was Mother’s Meat and Freud’s Flesh, a surreal piece involving a porn star and his domineering mother." Richard King, 2007 guest programmer, recalls an unforgettable film from the 80s.
"For me this festival was about the guilty pleasure of bunking off work, disappearing into a mid-morning movie, blinking in the daylight afterwards and sneaking back to my office."James Every-Palmer of sponsor Russell McVeagh reveals his solution for mixing the festival with work.
"New Zealand’s film exhibition was at that time totally dominated by the two chains, who could stymie any potential competition. Moreover the censor was hyper-active: in 1974 7% of films submitted to him were banned, and another 38% scissored." Filmmaker Russell Campbell looks back at the state of NZ cinema in the 1970s, and the changes the Festival brought.
“2011 marks 25 years since the passing of Homosexual Law Reform legislation, just a couple of weeks before the opening of the Festival. In its own way, the Film Festival helped to celebrate that event.” David Jenkinson, Vice President of the Wellington Film Society, looks back at the very special opening night of 1986.