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FilmFestivals

Page history last edited by David Lindsay 5 months, 2 weeks ago

The first Film Festival in New Zealand under Film Society influence occured in Wellington in 1972. There was already an Auckland Film Festival, but it had more commercial leanings, as did an early effort by Wellington in 1947, run in conjunction with Kerridge Odeon. In 1972, the president of the Wellington Film Society, Lindsay Shelton, was also involved with obtaining 16mm prints for all the film societies through the NZ Federation of Film Societies. But there were some films he wanted to bring to New Zealand that were only available on the professional 35mm guage. He convinced the committee - and the manager, Merv Kisby, of the independently run Paramount Theatre in Courtenay Place - of the need for such an event, and the ability of the Film Society to run it.

 

The First Wellington Film Festival ran for a week from Friday 28 July to Thursday 3 August. Seven films were programmed, each with sessions at 2.00, 5.15 and 8.15pm. The films were:

Claire's Knee (Eric Rohmer, France 1970)

Johnny Got His Gun (Dalton Trumbo, USA 1971)

The Battle of Algiers (Gillo Pontecorvo, Italy/Algiers 1965)

The Arp Statue (Alan Sekers, UK 1971)

Metello (Mauro Bolognini, Italy 1970)

Tristana (Luis Bunuel, Spain 1970)

La Souffle au Couer (Louis Malle, France 1971)

 

But even at that first Festival, things did not go completely to plan. The Auckland Film Festival mistakenly returned the print of The Arp Statue to the producers in London. In its place was screened Death a Legend (Bill Mason, Canada 1972), along with two further short Canadian films which had already been scheduled: Wet Earth and Warm People (Michael Rubbo) and Norman Jewison Film-Maker (Doug Jackson).

 

Also at this First Wellington Film Festival, two extra films were scheduled on the weekend mornings.

Blanche (Walerian Borowczyk, France 1971), came direct from the Sydney Film Festival for its only New Zealand screening.

Why Did Herr R Run Amok (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, West Germany 1970) introduced Fassbinder to Wellington audiences.

 

The First Wellington Film Festival sold 5000 tickets and cemented its place in the Wellington events calendar. By the time of the 34th Wellington Film Festival in 2005 there were 154 films to choose from over 17 days. Over 70,000 tickets were sold.

 

Even by the Second Wellington Film Festival comments were heard that there were too many films in too short a season. But the main purpose of a festival is to expose viewers to a large selection of new films which would not otherwise be available. The debate had already begun as to whether the aim should be to aim at an even wider selection, introducing films from countries whose work is seldom, if ever, seen in New Zealand.

 

The Second Wellington Film Festival also ran for one week (from 29 June - 5 July) and screened 13 films. Titles included:

Just Before Night (Claude Chabrol, France 1971)

A Safe Place (Henry Jaglom, USA 1971)

Family Life (Krzysztof Zannussi, Poland 1971)

Teorema (Pier Paolo Pasolini, Italy 1968) with censorship certificate: R18 (Wellington Film Festival only)

Private Road (Barney Platts-Mills, UK 1971)

Bleak Moments (Mike Leigh, UK 1971)

Fellini's Roma (Federico Fellini, Italy 1972)

Attendances for the first five days surpassed the complete seven days of the First Festival a year previously.

 

The Third Wellington Film Festival extended to 10 days (28 June - 7 July 1974) and attracted record ticket sales of 11,000. It was also the first to have a souvenir programme, a modest black and white affair of 16 pages. Among the 14 features were:

Mon Oncle Antoine (Claude Jutra, Canada 1971)

Morgiana (Juraj Herz, Czechoslovakia 1972)

Fat City (John Huston, USA 1972)

The Merchant of Four Seasons (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, West Germany 1972)

The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, West Germany 1972)

Nathalie Granger (Marguerite Duras, France 1972)

Andrea Rublev (Andrei Tarkovsky, USSR 1966)

Blood Wedding (Claude Chabrol, France 1973)

 

Everything on the programme was presented as scheduled, but there were some anxious moments. Morgiana for example. Its availability was confirmed in mid May by the Czech Film Export Corporation, but then in early June there was doubt if the only existing English-subtitled print could be traced. After lengthy overseas phone calls the print was traced to London, where it was due to be despatched ten days before the festival began. But its due arrival came and went, and Morgiana did not arrive. More phone calls revealed that a forwarding error had stranded our print at London Airport - only 48 hours before the festival began! It seemed impossible to get the film here in time, so the unhappy task of changing advertisements and scheduling a replacement began. Then, with only 24 hours to starting time, came the news that the print had been rushed out of England and was due in Wellington on the day the festival began, which was one day before its screening date. On the Friday afternoon a film society representative and a Czech diplomat (both nervous) started searching through wagons of freight at Wellington airport - was it there or not? The first search revealed nothing. Then the freight people discovered another set of wagons with more freight from the international flight, and there was Morgiana. Observing all the laws, they drove the film to the censor just as he was due to finish work for the weekend. Luckily the deputy censor agreed to stay at work for an extra ninety or so minutes. Thus Morgiana was duly approved (it was given an A certificate) and shown to audiences of 1000 people.

 

The 4th Wellington Film Festival also ran 10 days (27 June - 6 July 1975), but the number of features increased to 23, and though attendances increased to over 14,000, the Festival made a modest deficit. Included was the World Premiere of Geoff Steven's New Zealand feature Test Pictures, finally complete after two and a half years on a budget of $14,000. (The Wellington Film Society had bravely agreed to pay $500 so that a screening print could be made.)

Among the other features:

Love in the Afternoon (Eric Rohmer, France 1972)

The Werewolf of Washington (Milton Moses Ginsberg, USA 1973)

Primate (Fred Wiseman, USA 1974)

The Wanderers (Kon Ichikawa, Japan 1973)

Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams (Gilbert Cates, USA 1973)

Love (Karoly Makk, Hungary 1971)

Boesman and Lena (Ross Devenish, South Africa 1973)

Earth is a Sinful Song (Rauni Mollberg, Finland 1973)

 

The director of the Wellington Film Festival made the following details available from the censor's cutting notices for films affected in the 4th Wellington Film Festival:

Celine and Julie Go Boating (Jacques Rivette, France 1974) - three subtitles removed, all saying 'sleeping...fucking.'

Mouth Agape - one subtitle 'what the fuck do I want.'

Between Wars (Michael Thornhill, Australia 1974) - the following words were deleted, 'fuck off' and 'who's fucking this duck.'

The Cars That Ate Paris (Peter Weir, Australia 1974) - 'the word 'fuck' and variations were removed six times from one sequence.

 

Apart from the problems of censorship, the Fourth Wellington Film Festival was the most successful yet with an attendance of 15,000. For a quick summary of the event we turn to Peter Harcourt:

 

"I don't think it was intentional, but the Film Festival had a distinct bias towards a woman's point of view. Boesman and Lena, for instance, was a South African cry from the heart against apartheid whether it be racial or sexual. The woman, Lena, played brilliantly by Yvonne Briceland, wanted to be recognised and accepted by her partner as - if not quite an equal then at least a person. It was moving, revealing and immensely satisfying. In Celine and Julie Go Boating, two girls became involved in the most complicated and repetitive experience of a dreamworld, part of a romantic melodrama they both see and share. Indescribable, deeply personal, and a bit too long - but utterly fascinating... Bombay Talkie was the diamond of the festival - flawed maybe, possibly even artificial, but still hard, beautiful and cutting to its own kind. It was about a woman who was willfully destructive, selfish and unsympathetic - but also pathetic. Finally, Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams - Joanne Woodward and Martin Balsam in a story about a middle-aged couple trying to come to terms with loss of youth, loss of innocence, loss of personal relationships; and Images, Robert Altman's beautiful but terrifying study of a schizophrenic confused by her other self and the men in her life. My own choice of them all, and to Susannah York the palm for best actress." - Peter Harcourt, Saturday Miscellany, National Radio.

 

The Wellington Film Festival continued to grow in 1976. For its 5th year, it presented 30 features from 16 countries over a 14 day season. For the first time, a Wellington newspaper devoted some editorial space to the event (Evening Post 6 July 1976), but it did not print any daily reviews, though Brigid Hampton in the Post on Saturday and Catherine de la Roche in the Dominion on Monday devoted some of their space to festival films. For reviews we had to rely on Jonathan Dennis who summed it up quite extensively on radio (2YC 18 July 1976). To sum up, Lindsay Shelton wrote a piece for Sequence (August 1976).

 

Lindsay Shelton summaries the years that followed, in a piece he wrote at the time of its 50th year:

"We didn’t find another New Zealand feature for the film festival till 1977 when we screened Landfall, written and directed (at the National Film Unit) by Paul Maunder. It had been made as a TV movie and had won a prize in Iran, but the Broadcasting Corporation didn’t want to show it. They were even reluctant to allow us to screen it at the film festival. Negotiations took 12 months. One of the actors in Landfall was a young NFU director named Sam Neill.

 

We championed the work of New Zealand directors whenever it was possible. The Seventh Wellington Film Festival premiered Vincent Ward’s A State of Siege. Later festivals introduced the first work of hometown directors including Gaylene Preston and Peter Jackson and Jane Campion, among others, with standing ovations. Roger Horrocks has written that film festivals were one of the catalysts for the emergence of a local film industry. All the future film directors were regular Festival-goers, and the annual exposure to so many different kinds of film, some from countries as small as ours, helped to inspire their own early efforts.

 

The tenth Wellington Film Festival offered a programme of 57 titles. It was the last that I directed. By then, I’d become marketing director at the newly-established Film Commission. At last New Zealand feature films were being made every year. And my job of selling them to the world didn’t leave me any more spare time. In the tenth programme I wrote:

“Ten years ago when we began, we didn’t know whether our hopes and interests would be shared by enough Wellingtonians to enable us to continue. Today, we are encouraged by the fact that a majority of our main features are sellouts, and the Wellington Film Festival has become an established feature of Wellington life, one which enables thousands of people to see some of the world’s best new films.

“We have done this entirely by voluntary effort – the film festival, unlike most other similar events, has had no financial support from any civic or national body as it has expanded to its present substantial size. There has however been a decade of generous support from many individuals, both in terms of time given to assist with the complex organizational demands, and also in terms of the generous provision of prints which comes from many parts of the world.

“The Wellington Film Festival has also helped to change attitudes towards films in local cinemas. A number of the films first championed by us have gone on to lengthy commercial runs. I don’t believe this would have happened had not the festival first had the courage to bring them here.”

 

Unpaid volunteers would remain a mainstay of the festival, but Rosemary Hope, who was honorary (unpaid) Wellington Film Society secretary, became our first paid employee when membership of the society grew to more than 2000 and the piles of cheques became too much for volunteers to handle. As well as being the administrator of the Wellington Film Society and of the national federation of film societies, she spent four months every year administering the film festival. Bill Gosden, recently arrived in town from Otago University, took over when she departed for a new life in England in 1979. Then he was ready and willing to become the festival’s first full-time professional director two years later, when I had moved to become Marketing Director at the newly-formed NZ Film Commission.

 

The growth during his almost-40 years as director was extraordinary. Who would have believed that the festival would outgrow the Paramount and move into the Embassy? Who would have believed that the festival would outgrow the Embassy and return to the Paramount as a second venue? Who would have believed that the festival would grow to occupy eight different venues in the city? Who would have forecast that a film festival in Wellington would attract an annual audience as high as 80,000?

 

Bill’s talent as festival director not only drove the continuing expansion of the Wellington Film Festival, but he also developed it to become a national event screening in 12 centres, with Wellington second only to Auckland in annual attendance numbers. (And a name change ten years ago, when the Wellington Film Festival became part of the NZ International Film Festival.) Bill’s work gave our film festival a world-wide reputation for excellence of which we can all be proud. And Wellington’s film festival is soundly established as the city’s biggest mid-winter cultural event, even though this year it’s been delayed by four months because of the pandemic."

 

Lindsay Shelton was founding director of the Wellington Film Festival from 1972 to 1981.

 

 

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