Since the 1960s, Alun Bollinger has worked with just about every significant Kiwi director: among them Geoff Murphy, Ian Mune, Gaylene Preston, Vincent Ward, Roger Donaldson, Peter Jackson and Jane Campion.
Aged 18, Bollinger joined the NZ Broadcasting Corporation as a trainee cameraman. He developed his craft shooting on 16mm for news and current affairs shows. Outside of work hours, he was also making films with teacher and musician Geoff Murphy. Bollinger even appeared in short film The Box, as a pop star pursued by fans. The closing shot showed a van with the name The Acme Sausage Company. Murphy decided it would make a great name for his film company; Bollinger liked the fact that ASC also happened to be the initials of the American Society of Cinematographers.
Later Bollinger and his family would spend time living in Hawke's Bay, in “a communal set-up with a film connection, with people like Bruno Lawrence, Martyn Sanderson, Geoff Murphy and their families … lots of kids”. On-screen, Bollinger, Murphy and others were developing their craft and ambition on a variety of film projects: 1970 robbery tale Tank Busters, early te reo tale Uenuku, the slapstick of Percy the Policeman, and their first, underfunded attempt at a feature, 1977's Wild Man. Bollinger can be seen talking about Wild Man in documentary Cowboys of Culture.
In 1977 Bollinger worked as gaffer (i.e chief electrician) to Director of Photography Michael Seresin on Roger Donaldson feature Sleeping Dogs, which is often seen as marking the relaunch point for New Zealand cinema. He went on to shoot several features in quick succession: Middle Age Spread, (1979); Sons for the Return Home (1979); and Beyond Reasonable Doubt (1980).
Bollinger then worked with camera operator Graeme Cowley on Geoff Murphy's breakthrough hit Goodbye Pork Pie (1981). Very little of the film could use synchronised sound, due to the noisy old Arriflex camera and the many scenes shot inside noisy cars and train carriages. In 1984 Bollinger followed it with another classic, over-the-top comedy Came a Hot Friday; Ian Mune directed.
It was with his other film that year, the dark and beautifully crafted Vigil, that Bollinger established his distinctive cinematographic style. Set entirely on a rural farm, the film won rapturous reviews overseas. Bollinger had previously worked with director Vincent Ward on two shorter films, A State of Siege (1978), adapted from the novel by Janet Frame, and In Spring, One Plants Alone (1980), a poetic documentary about an isolated Māori woman and her schizophrenic son in the Urewera. Bollinger would return as director of photography on the troubled shoot for Ward's colonial epic River Queen, at one point even briefly taking on directing duties.
After Bollinger's awardwinning work on the film adaptation of iconic Kiwi play The End of the Golden Weather, he was invited by Peter Jackson to film 1994's Heavenly Creatures. The film's look incorporated a highly mobile camera and expressionistic use of colour and lighting, though the tones grow progressively darker in later scenes.
Though the rush of acclaim for Heavenly Creatures meant international recognition for Bollinger's work, he has largely resisted the temptation to work overseas. To date, he has left New Zealand for only four projects - Larry Parr's French-set A Soldier's Tale, Isle of Man-shot curiosity Woundings, his "flawless" work (David Stratton) on Australian romance For Love Alone, and Oyster Farmer, which saw him nominated for a slew of Australian awards).
Following Heavenly Creatures, Bollinger reteamed with Peter Jackson on his next two films. Fake documentary Forgotten Silver saw Bollinger deliberately filming some scenes out of focus, or undercranking the camera to recreate the required silent movie look. Meanwhile big-budget ghost tale The Frighteners involved roughly 500 effects shots and one of the longest shoots on Kiwi soil to date. The film saw Bollinger collaborating with cinematographer John Blick, after a car accident saw him sidelined from the project for a month.
Bollinger's collaborations with director Gaylene Preston cross the gamut: from the documentary work of War Stories and filming Bollinger's late family friend Hone Tuwhare, to West Coast thriller Perfect Strangers.
In 2012 he collaborated with Mexican-born director Dana Rotberg on locally-shot culture-clash tale White Lies. Two years later he was nominated for a Moa award for his cinematography on documentary Voices of the Land: Ngā Reo o te Whenua. Shot in locales around New Zealand, the film is inspired by traditional Māori musical instruments, and musician Richard Nunns.
Gerard Smyth documentary Barefoot Cinema: The Art and Life of Cinematographer Alun Bollinger, turns the camera 180 degrees with illuminating results. The barefooted Bollinger continues to spend half of each year working on selected features, documentaries and short films.
- This profile is partly adapted from Duncan Petrie's book Shot in New Zealand - The Art and Craft of the Kiwi Cinematographer.
Duncan Petrie, Shot in New Zealand - The art and craft of the Kiwi cinematographer (Auckland:Random House, 2007)
Roger Booth, Bruno - The Bruno Lawrence Story (Christchurch: Canterbury University Press, 1999)
Nancy Cawley, 'Old Man River' (Interview) - Listener, 13 May 2006 (Issue 203)
David Stratton, The Avocado Plantation - Boom and Bust in the Australian Film Industry (Sydney: Pan Macmillan Publishers Australia, 1990)