Rebecca Tansley

Rebecca Tansley

Director Rebecca Tansley (Crossing Rachmaninoff, NZIFF 2015) celebrates NZIFF as a portal to the wide world.

"My early ideas of what cinema was were shaped by the movies my family enjoyed as occasional weekend treats: The Poseidon Adventure, The Towering Inferno, Jaws. These scary thrill rides with happy-ever-after endings were, like the jaffas we ate while watching them, tasty but nutritionally poor. More satisfying stories were made of words, not pictures, and found in bookstores and libraries rather than movie theatres.

It wasn’t until I went to university in the mid-1980s that I discovered cinema was a source of stories and ideas every bit as diverse and engaging as literature. My time there coincided with the dawn of film studies as a legitimate form of intellectual inquiry. I was studying languages and the horizons of my world were rapidly receding beyond the confines of the suburban North Shore. I was discovering the world.

The Film Festival was an integral part of that awakening, not just because it made non-mainstream and foreign language films readily accessible, but because it also straddled the divide between films consumed purely for entertainment and those studied as texts. It demonstrated that film could be nourishing and delicious at the same time.

Thanks to the NZIFF I learned the simple pleasure of a daytime visit to the cinema, alone. I ‘found’ New Zealand films. I watched thrillers much more complex than anything seen in my childhood. I was able to experience the power of the visual narrative that I was learning about expressed in myriad ways.

Some discoveries proved formative. High Tide (1988) was probably the first film directed by a woman that I ever saw, and I still recall today the strength of my emotional response to characters and a story with which, for the first time, I really identified. I also remember leaving the cinema after Sex, Lies and Videotape (1989) feeling, in that exaggerated way that is the reserve of teenagers and young adults, that life as I knew it had somehow changed. But in a way, it had. I was understanding how words together with pictures could be even more powerful than books. I decided to learn how to make films myself.

Looking back, I see my viewing habits always skewed towards stories about the complexities of human relationships. I enjoyed the work of directors such as Hal Hartley, Mike Leigh and, later, Kelly Reichardt. Jane Campion’s Sweetie (1990) stands out for its audacity and distinctive voice. But the explosive power of Spike Lee’s early films showed me the personal could also be political, and I also began to discover the potential for documentary to explore human stories in equally compelling ways.

Over the years my NZIFF participation waxed and waned depending on the demands on my time; a big gap correlates to the early years of my children’s lives, for example. But when life turned full-circle and I finally began making the films I had dreamed of making almost three decades earlier, the forum I aspired to for those films, the audience I held in my mind, was the NZIFF. To me it was a land inhabited by the kind of filmmaker that I wanted to be, the realm of human – not superhuman – stories. To me, this is what NZIFF still represents today."

Image: High Tide