For his first feature-length film the widely exhibited New Zealand photographer Gavin Hipkins invests a richly pictorial essay with the 21st-century resonance of Samuel Butler’s lively utopian satire Erewhon, written in 1872.
Screened as part of NZIFF 2014
Photographer Gavin Hipkins’ first feature-length film is a moving-picture essay, replete with his fine-textured images of the natural world – and the often forlorn evidence of humanity’s passage through it. Hipkins draws his themes from Samuel Butler’s utopian satire Erewhon: Or, Over the Range, published in 1872. Butler had worked on a South Island high country sheep station and it’s easy to suppose that his objectification of a wholly invented ‘native people’ is an ironic posture owing something to his experience in colonial New Zealand. Likewise his concerns with the coming dominance of industry chime eerily with contemporary concerns: vegetarianism is the law in Erewhon and machines have been banished to museums for fear of their becoming conscious. On the soundtrack Mia Blake reads from the book, while Hipkins’ imagery seems to fill in the years since, finding the persistence of Butler’s themes in the New Zealand landscape. His imagery seems so finely etched in the greenness and dampness and reflected light of Aotearoa, it’s surprising to learn that he also shot extensively in Queensland and Northern India.