Shirley Horrocks

Shirley Horrocks

Shirley Horrocks’ invaluable documentary portraits of New Zealand artists have been a regular feature at NZIFF for two decades. She still gets nervous.

As a filmmaker who started her career comparatively late, having a film in the New Zealand International Film Festival felt to me like reaching the zenith. It still does, and even though I’ve now had ten films in the Festival, I’m still nervous both before and during the screening.

I was never more nervous than in 2001 at the premiere of Early Days Yet, my profile of poet Allen Curnow. He was 92, still as sharp as ever, and this was the first documentary made about him. For some reason I had decided not to give him a preview, and I sat next to him during that first Festival screening. Allen was known for speaking his mind, so I was understandably nervous about his reaction. I stole a look at him as the film approached the end, and was startled to see tears running down his cheeks. Fortunately this was the right response, he was moved by the film, and went back to see it twice more. This documentary was made just in time as Allen died later that year.

As a documentary maker, I’m aware of the huge trust that people need to put in any person who makes a feature-length documentary about them. I’ve been lucky so far! They have always been delighted that their story will be seen in the Festival.

The other standout memory for me was the screening of The New Oceania, about Samoan writer Albert Wendt. After the film, members of his aiga came on stage and presented me with a huge, exquisitely made mat, the ultimate gift. I was overwhelmed. The mat covers one wall of my office.

After ten films, it’s still the same feeling of nervousness and elation at a Festival premiere. And it’s always a special pleasure when Bill Gosden introduces me, as he has so generously introduced many filmmakers, and done so much to support New Zealand filmmaking.

Image: Early Days Yet