Annie Collins found herself at an editing bench partly by accident, only to discover that it felt like home. Her extensive CV, much of it in documentary, includes a number of projects which have excited intense debate, including Patu! and The Neglected Miracle.
Collins admits that she is often attracted to projects that scare off funders or broadcasters: "...it's usually a sure sign that the subject is a good one."
Collins has spoken of being attracted to documentary "that seeks to analyse injustice or social conditions", or explores people pushing themselves beyond normal parameters.
In the 1970s, Collins became one of the first editors in New Zealand to be trained outside the normal environs of either television, the Government-owned National Film Unit or John O'Shea's Pacific Films.
She first edited on Meanwhile, a collaborative documentary made as part of a three-year graphic design course at Wellington Polytechnic. Collins' film tutor, jack of all trades filmmaker Pat Cox, encouraged her to do more editing. After she failed to get a job in the industry, Cox offered to train her, initially for no wages.
She discovered quickly that editing was her passion. As she later told Onfilm magazine, "I just wanted to be in that room sitting quietly with the film puzzling my way through how to make it work."
Having provided Collins with a grounding in everything from camera focus to foley, Cox recommended Collins for a job as sound effects editor on landmark Kiwi feature Sleeping Dogs (1977). Collins went on to contribute to the sound edits of Goodbye Pork Pie (1980), Carry Me Back (1982), Keri Hulme adaptation Hooks and Feelers (1983), and feminist thriller Trial Run (1984).
The early 80s also saw Collins launching a highly productive working relationship with late Māori filmmaker Merata Mita. She said that Mita's mind was "so formidable that it is a privilege to sit next to her". After first working on Keskidee Aroha (1979), Collins and Mita collaborated on three further documentaries together.
The Bridge (completed in 1982), about the longrunning Mangere Bridge dispute, counted as the first time Collins was "let loose on a film." The Bridge was followed by the controversial Patu!, stitched together from extensive footage of the 1981 Springbok tour, and archival documentary Mana Waka (1990), which Collins also co-produced. Mana Waka saw Mita and Collins working on an editing bench at Turangawaewae Marae, working through fifty-year old footage chronicling the creation of four special waka. Mita and Collins' film would itself be restored, for return screenings at the 2011 round of NZ Film Festivals.
Two other landmark New Zealand documentaries from Collins' pre-1990 CV should be mentioned: two Geoff Steven documentaries from 1979, which retraced a 15,000 kilometre journey across China with New Zealand-born Rewi Alley (Gung Ho and The Humble Force); and Barry Barclay's increasingly prescient The Neglected Miracle (1985). The two hour documentary, the result of interviews with farmers, scientists and officials across the globe, explores how the West has exploited genetic plant resources from third world countries.
In 1987 Collins added directing to her extensive resume, with the 48 minute documentary Double Take. Winner of a Media Peace Award, the film utilised interviews with a range of public figures, to examine institutional racism. The film has been screened to many schools, institutions, and Government departments.
The 90s (incidentally the title of another Collins project) saw her returning to drama — but this time editing pictures, instead of sound. She was both producer and editor of the women-led TV drama Xmas for Lou, a tale of volatile families which won the 1994 NZ Television Award for Best Drama, and Sima Urale's Venice awardwinning short O Tamaiti (1996).
Collins also won NZ Film and Television Awards for two editing collaborations with director Robert Sarkies: his darkly comic feature debut Scarfies in 1999 — Collins found the experience "a blast from start to finish" — and Aramoana tragedy Out of the Blue (2008). A third Sarkies film — comedy Two Little Boys — followed in 2012.
Inbetween making movies with Sarkies, Collins found herself curious as to how the complex editing requirements of Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy would be achieved. So she joined the editing team. Collins worked in different editing capacities on each film over a total period of four and a half years, initially editing animatics (preliminary mock-ups of how a completed film can be cut together). She ended up as assembly editor on Return of the King, working on the AVID editing system alongside chief editor Jamie Selkirk. After having spent much of her career flying solo, Collins enjoyed the support of working with a larger team.
Asked by Onfilm in 2004 which projects she was most proud of, Collins' reply included Sleeping Dogs, Scarfies, and her documentary work with Merata Mita. She also mentioned the lesser known Erin's Exiled Daughters (1997) — a documentary by "particularly intuitive director" Shirley Grace, which explored Grace's Irish immigrant family history. Talking about the film, Collins said "there was an intellectual discipline at work that I try never to work without now."
'Annie Collins: On cutting films...' (Video Interview) NZ On Screen website. Director Claire O'Leary. Loaded February 2009. Accessed 15 March 2011
Nick Grant, Annie Collins Uncut (Interview) - Onfilm, October 2004