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Page history last edited by David Lindsay 4 years, 2 months ago

Waitati Film Society


The beginnings of a film society in the Otago coastal village of Waitati occurred in 1975 during the height of the alternative lifestyle movement that brought the village to national attention as the origin of the publication “Mushroom”. An emerging group of interested people gathered around a couple known as Frances and Malcolm Gramophone, both of whom were somewhat eccentric and unpredictable characters. Early screenings were of a motley collection of films cajoled out of embassies and are reputed to have first taken place in a local hall and at the Gramophone’s own home, the projector throwing the image onto a bed sheet hanging from the ceiling.


There were few screenings in 1976 but later that year a Waitati Film Society was formally incorporated, the application being signed by fifteen people. Incorporation was a pre-requisite for affiliation to the NZFFS. So from the following year on members of the Society chose sufficient films to fill a programme of approximately 20 screenings, though in recent years, with increasing demand, this is nearer 30, Special screenings have always been organised for occasions such as membership drives and school holidays. Meetings were fortnightly, starting in early February and finishing in early December.


Records of those early years were lost with the departure of the Gramaphones but the Society continued its activities during the late 1970’s. Audience numbers fluctuated considerably depending on the film itself, the venue and the weather. There were the occasional times when the projectionist had to be prepared to double as the sole audience.


In 1980 a major blow was dealt to the survival of all smaller film societies when the NZFFS decreed that affiliation fees would be based on an assumed minimal membership of 30. This was a severe imposition on a small village organization where membership rarely exceeded 15, some of whom never attended screenings but retained their membership as a form of support for a local community activity. Many protests from the Society’s secretary were unable to persuade the financially challenged Federation to rescind its decision. The Society struggled to exist for a further two years under this financial burden but finally had to concede and went into recess 1982-84. But enthusiasm had not been extinguished and in 1985 the WFS re-started as a sub-branch of the Dunedin Film Society. In response to the need to raise funds from sources other than membership fees, members sold bulk purchased frozen fish. This was sufficiently successful for the WFS to once again become an independent organization in 1986, locally known as the “Film and Fish Society”.


In the early years various venues were used. The hard seats in the village hall were not an attraction to potential audiences. Screenings at member’s homes was very popular for social as well as cinematographic reasons. But relatively small venues necessitated creative positioning of the projector, such as down a corridor, to achieve the required size of picture whilst avoiding the viewer’s heads. For many years the Waitati School library was used with its residual warmth from its daytime occupants and a power point for between-reels refreshments. From 1993 to the present, screenings have been in a local large private room with a wonderful ambience greatly enhanced by a wood burner, tea and coffee facilities and the availability of samosas. It is no co-incidence that attendances and membership has grown consistently since the Society has enjoyed meeting at this venue.


Various projectors have been employed by the Society, including a Bell and Howell with a small plaque inside declaring that it was presented to mark the coronation of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. For many years the Society owned an Eiki projector that proved to be a faithful servant that had been designed for far larger auditoria. Though at times the Society has owned more than one projector so had the ability to screen films right through, there has always been an unspoken agreement that an interval between reels is sacrosanct for social interaction. With the generous financial support of various of Otago’s community organisations in 2005, very good quality video/dvd playing, sound and projection equipment was purchased.


The resilience of the Society is truly remarkable. It has survived in the face of financial hardships, limited local facilities and within a geographical area with such a small potential source of members. The rôle of the Society within the Waitati community is impossible to define, however it has afforded both on and off screen, 30 years of drama, comedy, history and often just plain entertainment in a warm, pleasant environment with convivial company.


September 2005


Since the above summary was written, a more complete history of the Waitati Film Society has been written. Thanks to its author and member of the society, Mark Walton, the text is published here. A hard copy, with illustrations, is available from the Waitati Film Society.


A History of The Waitati Film Society - the first 40 years


Unfortunately, the Waitati Film Society ceased operating at the end of 2018.



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