HamiltonFilmSociety


Hamilton Film Society

 

Hamilton Film Society has been part of the Hamilton arts scene since 1947. It began with a meeting convened on May 18 of that year by some well-known Hamilton identities, Messrs Foreman, Roach, Siefert and Whittlestone for the purpose of forming a film society. The meeting was attended by 45 people who elected a committee of eight to set up the society and develop a programme. At the first committee meeting the subscription was set at 10/- for eight films. The programme in that first year The Italian Straw Hat, Prelude to War, The Bridge, L’ Idée, Film and Reality, Charlie Chaplin Comedies, and Man of Aran was put together from a variety of sources including the NZ Film Institute (now NZ Federation of Film Societies ) to which the society became an affiliated member in June. Each feature film was accompanied by shorts mainly sourced from the National Film Unit and later on from the permanent collection of films available from the NZ Film Institute. Over the years screenings increased to fortnightly and from the 1990s, weekly from March until December. In the early days, a projector and screen borrowed from the Ruakura Animal Research Station were set up each time in the venues. Early records show a tight financial situation and it was not until the mid 1950s that the society bought a screen, and in the late 1960s an Eiki 16mm projector. Some successful grant applications since that time have resulted in the society buying a matching Eiki projector, which meant no breaks between reels, a video projector and DVD player.

 

An important aim of the Hamilton Film Society from its inception was to develop a strong film culture in Hamilton and to bring ‘good worthwhile and challenging films to as wide a range of people as possible”. In keeping with the aim of film societies overall it was felt that both young and old needed to look on film not just as entertainment but as an educational and art form. It was decided to include an opportunity for discussion about the films at each screening and much effort went into facilitating this, including supper after the screening and circulating prepared questions among members to provoke discussion. However efforts met with mixed success and the President in 1953 noted ruefully in his annual report. “Attempts at organising discussions in the past have failed. The committees have therefore been forced to conclude that there is not a place for the critical approach to films within our society. This is not surprising in a small town such as Hamilton where the number of people likely to be interested in film criticism must be small”. It seems that successive committees have not taken this gloomy conclusion too much to heart as there is evidence of further initiatives to get people talking about the films including bringing in speakers such as John Reid, the Auckland Star film critic, and running themed programmes like the Silent and Classic Films and short introductions to films by film makers and society members. The Society’s newsletter Projections provides critical commentaries about the films which members find helpful – even if at times they totally disagree with them!

 

Social activities have always been part of the Hamilton Film Society. In 1949, Mrs Nelson (later a life member) was “appointed to the position of hostess of the society “so that members through her might be introduced to one another and so strengthen the social side of the gatherings”. Successive committees have continued the tradition by organising dinners and events, and by doing this have built a loyal membership. Some current members have been part of the society for over 30 years, served on the committee in various roles and are still advocates for the Society distributing publicity material and encouraging others to join.

 

Strong links with local community organisations such as the French and German Clubs, the Arts Society, Chamber Music, and Tramping Club have extended Society screenings activities beyond the yearly programme. Locally curated film programmes for groups and organisations have become a feature over the years. They started in the 1950s with a series of four films for the French Society screened at the Theatre Royal. Between 1984-1988 the Society sourced and projected a programme of films each February on an outdoor screen at the Hamilton Lake for the Hamilton City Council’s community development programme. Other ventures include the Women’s Film Festival in conjunction with the Centre for Continuing Education at the University of Waikato held from 1990 to 2000, the Children’s Film Festivals at the Museum (1990-1995), a number of German Film Festivals to accompany art and poster exhibitions, a Humphrey Bogart season, and the Maori Film Festival in 1990 with the Waikato Museum of Art and History. The link to those teaching the University and Wintec media arts courses has given Society members a chance in recent years to see the work of up and coming filmmakers. The current project for 2006 is a collaboration with the Waikato Historical Society and the NZ Film Archive to present a programme of sound features of the early years in Hamilton and the Waikato. This follows the successful silent film programmes held in 2003 and 2005.

 

The Society has screened in various venues over the years in a search for comfortable warm surroundings at an affordable price. The first three venues The Little Theatre, The Wintergarden, and the Art Gallery did not have projection facilities. The move to the Teacher’s College and then the University with a second screening at the Waikato Polytechnic meant that for the first time Society members did not have the sound of the projector accompanying their screenings. In the late 1980s, the cost of screening at the university rose significantly and with a decrease in membership the society moved to a free and much more comfortable venue, the Waikato Museum of Art and History theatrette seating 84. However the need to screen more 35mm films necessitated a move in 2002 to the present venue, the Victoria Cinema in Hamilton seating 60.

 

The Hamilton Film Society has survived over the years with membership levels reflecting trends with the film society movement generally and the advent of television, video and home theatre. However, with dedicated committees and the loyalty of members who continue to enjoy the opportunity to see and often "re-see" quality cinema, the Society can look forward to still being around for many years to come.