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on September 5, 2005 at 3:49:47 pm

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 attaining 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 Herzog, West Germany 1972)

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

Nathalie Granger (Marguetite 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 Morgana. 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 Morgana was duly approved (it was given an A certificate) and shown to audiences of 1000 people.



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