Gaylene Preston has been making feature films and documentaries with a distinctive New Zealand flavour and a strong social message, for over 30 years. In 2001 she was the first filmmaker to be made a Laureate by the Arts Foundation, recognising her contribution to New Zealand film and television.
I believe that the basic responsibility of New Zealand filmmakers is to make films principally for the New Zealand audience. If we don't, no-one else will. Gaylene Preston
Gaylene Preston's documentary follows a year in the life of trail-blazing politician Helen Clark. During filming the ex New Zealand PM was head of the United Nations Development Programme, and bidding to become the UN’s first female Secretary-General. Preston was keen to capture the empowering character of the woman ranked by Forbes magazine among the 25 most powerful in the world. "Helen is a formidable woman and leader, and I’m honoured she’s given my team access to tell this story." The documentary is set to screen at the 2017 NZ International Film Festival.
The Art of Recovery sets out to document "one of the most dynamic, creative and contentious times in the history of Christchurch". Director Peter Young (The Last Ocean) examines a post-quake city where creativity thrives among the rubble: from street art to dance spaces, to the beloved 185 Empty Chairs Memorial. But will the spirit of community and creativity survive the redesign? The Art of Recovery won raves after its 2015 NZ Film Festival premiere at Christchurch's recently restored Isaac Theatre Royal. Stuff reviewer James Croot called the result "kinetic, interesting and inspiring".
In 1881, after being met by the pa's children holding white feathers of peace, invading constabulary ended Te Whiti and Tohu's passive resistance at Parihaka in Taranaki. One of the darkest episodes of the NZ Wars, it is revisited in this documentary made by Paora Joseph (with Gaylene Preston as EP) which follows another group of Taranaki children undertaking an emotional, modern day pilgrimage to the South Island jails where their ancestors were exiled and forced to labour. Footage of their hikoi is interwoven with their poetry, song, art and narration.
On October 15 2007, citing evidence of guerilla camps involving firearms training, police raided 60 houses across NZ, many of them in Ruatoki, near Whakatane. In production for almost as many years as the ensuing legal proceedings, this provocative documentary proposes that the so-called “anti-terrorism” raids were bungled, racist and needlessly terrifying to children. The film’s subtitle ‘Deep in the Forest’ is inspired by ex Red Squad second-in-command Ross Meurant, who argues that as police move into specialist units they grow increasingly paranoid.
This is the opening episode of the Prime TV series celebrating 50 years of New Zealand television: from an opening night puppet show in Auckland in 1960, through to Outrageous Fortune five decades later. It traverses the medium's development and its major turning points (including the rise of programme-making and news, networking, colour and the arrival of TV3, Prime, NZ on Air, Sky and Māori Television) and interviews many of the major players. The changing nature of the NZ living room — always with the telly in pride of place as modern hearth — is a story within a story.
In Gaylene Preston's War Stories, her mother Tui revealed that she had fallen for another man while her husband was off at war. In Home by Christmas, inspired by an audio interview with her father Ed, Preston looks again at her parents' life during wartime. In this behind-the-scenes doco, veteran actor Tony Barry talks about the acting techniques which allowed him to "be, rather than play, Ed"; Preston reveals that Barry's distinctive voice is almost a carbon copy of her father's; and Chelsie Preston Crayford talks about portraying her own grandmother.
Home by Christmas sees Gaylene Preston returning to the hidden stories of ordinary New Zealanders. Inspired by attempts to get her father Ed to reveal his WWII experiences, this finely-balanced docu-drama moves between three strands: Preston’s father (Goodbye Pork Pie's Tony Barry, in a Qantas award-winning performance) retelling his story; recreations of Ed’s wartime OE; and life for the woman he left behind in Greymouth. The dream cast sees Preston’s own daughter Chelsie Preston Crayford playing Preston's mother Tui, alongside Martin Henderson.
Edgar Allen Poe's tales of murder, burial, and ominous ravens have inspired movies, nightmares ... and an eclectic musical suite by saxophonist Lucien Johnson, which he first performed live with Wellington’s Village of the Idiots. With the aid of some home-cooked CGI, director Geoff Murphy mixes concert footage, fantastical imagery, interviews and spoken word to put it on screen. Family and friends help round out the crew. The results echo Murphy's early, genre-stretching days with ensemble Blerta, this time with themes of mortality mixing in with the horns.
Barefoot Cinema looks at the "art and life" of Alun Bollinger, whom Peter Jackson calls "the finest lighting cameraman that the country has ever produced." Goodbye Pork Pie, Vigil, Heavenly Creatures ... the path of the man known as 'AlBol' is like a screen industry growth chart. But the film is as much an affectionate account of the values and family of a "greenie good keen man", shaped around his four decades-long relationship with wife Helen. In this excerpt, 'AlBol' nails down iron in the rain at his West Coast home, and he and Peter Jackson reflect on their collaborations.
An affectionate documentary about painter Rita Angus. Angus was well known for her enigmatic self portraits, and this Gaylene Preston-directed documentary explores the relationship between the work and biography. It gathers together new material about Angus's life, as well as interviews with a group of friends who knew her, and a new generation of appreciators including biographer Jill Trevelyan. Many of her paintings are also featured, evocatively shot by Alun Bollinger; actress Loren Horsley captures an uncanny likeness as a young Angus.
This documentary follows a 32-strong "mob of veterans" (the oldest is 95) on their trip to unveil a war memorial in London's Hyde Park. The memorial honours New Zealand's service in war alongside Britain. The ceremony took place on November 11th 2006, with attendees including Prime Ministers Helen Clark and Tony Blair, The Queen and ... Dave Dobbyn. For many of the elderly vets it is effectively their second OE; they remember war stories and lost mates, flirt with journalists and endure the pitfalls of airport drudgery and jet-lag.
Private Journeys / Public Signposts turns the camera on photographer Ans Westra. Dutch emigree Westra has captured iconic images of New Zealanders since the late 1950s, expressively observing Aotearoa societal changes, particularly Māori urban drift. This film explores her remarkable life and work, and includes commentary from family and friends, fellow photographers, and colleagues, as well as discussion of the Washday at the Pa controversy. Luit Bieringa, curator of Westra's retrospective photo exhibition, directed the film, his first.
The Hawke’s Bay earthquake was New Zealand’s worst civil disaster. Over 250 people died following the 7.8 quake on 3 February 1931. In this full-length documentary, director Gaylene Preston (Hope and Wire) gathers eyewitness accounts from survivors, including kuia Hana Lyola Cotter, who recounts joining the rescue effort as a teen, poet Lauris Edmond, and a student from Greenmeadows Seminary. Included is eye-opening newsreel footage of the damage. Earthquake was nominated for Best Popular Documentary at the 2006 Qantas TV Awards; it won best sound at the NZ Screen Awards.
One night at the pub Melanie (Rachel Blake) meets a handsome stranger (Sam Neill) and accepts his invitation to go back to his place. When they board his boat she finds out that this is further than she thought (a shack on a deserted island). Once they arrive he treats her like a princess - however it slowly dawns on her that she's been kidnapped. Terrified, she also knows that he's her only way off the island. As events play out in Gaylene Preston's twisted fairytale, Melanie's feelings change from anger and fear - to desire.
In this 2002 documentary director Brita McVeigh heads down the aisle to explore the world of air hostesses in air travel’s glamorous 60s and 70s heyday. Seven ex-“trolley dollies” recall exacting beauty regimes, controversial uniform changes, and the job’s unspoken insinuation of sexual availability. The cheese and cracker trolley becomes a vehicle that charts the changing status of women as McVeigh argues that — despite layovers in Honolulu, and a then-rare working opportunity for ‘girls’ — the high life concealed harassment, and struggles for equal rights and pay.
In 1996 Tony Sutorius got his hands on a new digital video camera, days before the start of an election campaign in Wellington Central. Made on the proverbial shoestring, this feature-length documentary chronicles five of those battling for the crown as a new political age — MMP — dawns. Richard Prebble joins a new party called Act, the National candidate joins United New Zealand… and one of the five will be sacrificed by their own party. Sutorius sat through 55 hours of footage to forge the result, which won enthused, sellout audiences at the 1999 NZ Film Festival.
This documentary is a view into the crucible that forged Te Papa Tongarewa, the Museum of New Zealand, which opened in 1998. Fascinating fly-on-the-wall moments are captured as a new kind of national museum is conceived. This excerpt features a board meeting where Saatchi & Saatchi present branding options. As political, ideological, creative and commercial considerations collide, the frustrations of decision making by committee are palpable: the body language, tears, cautions, grumbles, and finally, smiles, as they settle on the contentious thumbprint logo.
After her son Kamal Bamadhaj — a New Zealand Malaysian student of history and Indonesian politics — was shot dead in the Dili massacre in East Timor in 1991, New Zealander Helen Todd decided to pursue a law suit against the Indonesian general she believed was responsible. Her personal and political campaign for justice would eventually span five continents and four years. The documentary from director Annie Goldson (An Island Calling) won acclaim, and a number of awards at international film festivals.
A documentary glimpse into the life, art, and inimitable cheeky-as-a-kaka style of late Kiwi poet, Hone Tuwhare. In this Gaylene Preston-directed film, the man with "the big rubber face" (cheers Glenn Colquhoun) is observed at home, and travelling the country reading his work; polishing a new love poem; visiting old drinking haunts; reading to a hall full of entranced students; and expounding his distinctive views on everything from The Bible to Karl Marx's love life. He reads some of his best-known poems, including Rain and No Ordinary Sun.
In Gaylene Preston's moving documentary, seven elderly women recall their personal experiences of World War II. Their intimate, unadorned stories are filmed talking-heads style, interspersed with personal photographs and period newsreel clips. From tragic love stories to long-suppressed revelations of sex and death, War Stories is a richly revealing touchstone of New Zealand history. It received international acclaim, Kevin Thomas in the LA Times enthused that Preston takes "a simple idea and turns it into a rich, universal experience".
Made to mark 100 years of women's suffrage in New Zealand, Bread & Roses tells the story of pioneering trade unionist, politician and feminist Sonja Davies (1923 - 2005), who rose to prominence in the 1940s and 50s. Directed by Gaylene Preston and co-written by Graeme Tetley, the acclaimed three-hour production played on television screens and got a limited cinema release. Australian actor Geneviève Picot (as Sonja Davies) and Mick Rose (as her husband) won gongs for their roles at the 1994 NZ Film and TV Awards. Bianca Zander writes about Bread & Roses here.
John O'Shea was godfather to generations of Kiwi filmmakers; he was an inspirational force committed to bringing new perspectives to the screen. As Ngati actor Wi Kuki Kaa put it, "had he been a Māori, he would have been a kaumatua years ago". This documentary backgrounds O'Shea and his pioneering indie production company Pacific Films, ranging from his efforts to put Māori on screen, to banned 60s ads. The cast provides proof positive of O'Shea's influence — amongst the ex-Pacific staff interviewed are the late Barry Barclay, Tony Williams and Gaylene Preston.
Mini-series Bread and Roses recreates the early days of trade unionist and politician Sonja Davies. Behind the scenes, the $4 million production required 175 speaking parts, and dozens of sets — many built from plywood, “to make something out of nothing”. This documentary follows director Gaylene Preston and producer Robin Laing from preproduction and filming a dance scene in Wellington Town Hall, to (old-fashioned film) editing. Meanwhile lead actor Geneviève Picot talks about the challenges of portraying a character who often kept her vulnerabilities hidden.
Director Rachel Davies subverts expectations in a confronting film about a young boy's relationship with an older man. In one continuous piece-to-camera shot a boy recounts his first sexual experiences at a scout camp. What is the relationship between the ambiguous identity of the subject (boy or girl? why does he have a man's voice?) and the gravity of what's being said? This intriguing confessional marked an impressive debut for Davies, who was only 21 when she made Sweetness. It received awards at the Sydney and San Francisco Film Festivals.
Originally conceived as a TV series, Gaylene Preston's comedy was a local hit, uplifting recession-era audiences with a plucky misfits saga. Ruby (Yvonne Lawley), an 83 year old trying to dodge a retirement home, rents a room to Rata, a solo mum with sidelines in music and benefit fraud. Rata's son is into arson and shoplifting, while Ruby's nephew (What Now's Simon Barnett) is a hapless yuppie wannabe. Marginalised by the deregulated economy of the 80s and living on their wits, they may just find common cause despite themselves in this Graeme Tetley-penned tale.
This report for TVNZ’s flagship 1980s arts show was made to tie in with Nicholas Reid’s book about the renaissance in NZ cinema that began with Sleeping Dogs in 1977. Reid and a who’s who of filmmakers discuss many of more than 50 films made in the previous decade (with Bruno Lawrence ever present) — and ponder the uniqueness (or otherwise) of NZ film. The industry’s fondness for rural and small town settings, and forceful (often conflicted) male leads is explored; and more neglected areas — Māori film making and more of a voice for women — are traversed.
Gaylene Preston's documentary on writer Keri Hulme — filmed two years after Hulme shot to global fame on the back of her Booker Prize-winning novel the bone people — is both a poetic travelogue of Okarito (the township where she resided for 40 years), and a sampler-box of affable musings on her writing process, whitebait fishing, the supernatural, and the 1200 pages of notes for her next novel, the elusive Bait. Leon Narbey's camera is aptly alert to the magical qualities of the coast, from the resident kotuku to the surf and birdsong peppering Hulme’s crib.
In director Gaylene Preston's genre-bending tale, Meg (Heather Bolton) buys a stylish old Jaguar so she can be more independent. While driving on a country road, she hears screams in the back – but there's no one there. In the excerpt above, she picks up a mysterious woman in the rain. Later she discovers that the woman was the car's previous owner, and she is missing. Now her killer might just be stalking Meg too. For their first, acclaimed feature, Preston and producer Robin Laing rented out local cinemas, conclusively proving that Mr Wrong had an audience.
Merata Mita’s Patu! is a startling documentary record of the mass civil disobedience that took place throughout New Zealand during the winter of 1981, in protest against a South African rugby tour. Testament to the courage and faith of both the filmmakers and marchers, Patu! is a landmark in New Zealand's film history. It staunchly contradicts claims by author Gordon McLauchlan a couple of years earlier that New Zealanders were "a passionless people".
This documentary sees director Gaylene Preston go behind the scenes during the making of Geoff Murphy's Utu — his ambitious 'puha western' set during the 1870s land wars. “It’s like football innit? You set up the event and cover it …” says Murphy, preparing to shoot a battle scene. In this excerpt, the film’s insistence on cultural respect is conveyed: Merata Mita discusses the beauty of ta moko as Anzac Wallace is transformed into Te Wheke in the make-up chair, and Martyn Sanderson reflects on having his head remade to be blown off: “What’s the time Mr Wolf?”.
The Neighbours were formed when Wellingtonian Rick Bryant packed his saxophone and headed north to jam with Sam Ford-led Ponsonby outfit Local Heroes. The band toured their sweaty soul sound extensively from their Gluepot Tavern base. ‘The Only One You Need’ was from the 1982 EP of the same name. Directed by Gaylene Preston, the Keystone Cops-style video has Bryant (somewhat slyly) playing a police constable under the spell of vocalist Trudi Green; Green foils Bryant’s bar raid and his efforts to guard a Greymouth bank. Bryant later formed the Jive Bombers.
No ordinary Christmas tale, The Monster’s Christmas throws viewers into a world of friendly creatures, talking hot pools and witches with gym equipment in their cave lairs. Child find Lucy McGrath revels in the role of a plucky girl who encounters a one-eyed monster with smoke billowing from his head. The monsters need her help to steal their voices back from an evil witch. The stylings of the live action creatures were influenced by the volcanic North Island locations, and designed by Janet Williamson and cartoonist Burton Silver. Yvonne Mackay (Kaitangata Twitch) directs.
A rare and early case of a Kiwi play being adapted for the big screen, Middle Age Spread asks whether adultery is inevitable (or whether the adulterers will inevitably be found out). Grant Tilly stars as a philandering teacher fearing a future of stress, decay and marital dissatisfaction. Roger Hall's acclaimed middle-aged comedy was adapted in the first flush of the Kiwi film renaissance, and marks the feature debut of many talents: director John Reid, cinematographer Alun Bollinger, writer Keith Aberdein, editor Mike Horton, and composer Stephen McCurdy.
A disabled climber achieves his dream of climbing a mountain. Bruce Burgess is a 24 year old who was born with a spastic condition. With the help of legendary mountain climber Graeme Dingle, he trained at the Turangi Outdoor Pursuits Centre. In August 1978 they conquered Mount Ruapehu together. Acclaimed producer/director Gaylene Preston's first film and shot by cinematographer Waka Attewell, it won Special Jury Prizes at the Banff Festival of Mountain Films and the Festival International du Film Alpine, Les Diaberets in 1980.