Award-winning cinematographer John Chrisstoffels has been training his camera on Christchurch and its inhabitants for more than two decades: in music videos for record label Flying Nun, short films, movies, and occasional documentaries. The sometime director has taught film at Canterbury University's School of Fine Arts since 2002.
Filmmaking is an amazing journey — people, places, stories — and as I get older, the experience just gets deeper. John Chrisstoffels
Director Nic Gorman won best short at the 2013 NZ Film Awards for zombie tale Here Be Monsters. With his first feature he shifts horror genres to the psychological thriller, as a mysterious new arrival (Vinnie Bennett) disturbs subantarctic island life for a husband and wife scientist team (Fantail's Sophie Henderson and Siege's Mark Mitchinson). Human Traces debuted at the 2017 NZ International Film Festival. NZ Herald reviewer George Fenwick praised the "stunning cinematography" and "impressive performances", arguing they helped produce a "fine debut" for Gorman.
Team Tibet tells the story of Thuten Kesang, who came to New Zealand in 1967, exiled from his Tibetan homeland, his family and his culture. Kesang was Aotearoa’s first Tibetan refugee. Filmed over 22 years by globetrotting filmmaker Robin Greenberg (Return of the Free China Junk), Kesang recounts his story, from his parents’ arrest in the wake of the 1959 uprising, to his advocacy for Tibetan environmental and political issues. He has become a point of contact for the global Tibetan community. The documentary was set to premiere at the 2017 NZ International Film Festival.
When German director Peter Falkenberg moved to Christchurch in the 1970s, he faced disdain from conservative locals after setting up avant-garde theatre company Free Theatre. The group was still going strong almost four decades later. Director Shirley Horrocks spent six years capturing their colourful and controversial history, and filming them in action. Interviewees in the 76 minute documentary include director Stuart McKenzie, who reflects on how out there the group was in the early 1980s, and founding member Nick Frost, who recalls when people tried to shut them down.
"How would your relationship with your best friend change if they were to change gender?" This is the intriguing proposition that led director Louise Leitch to make this 2016 Loading Doc. Best friends Neil (Leitch's husband) and Byron have been longtime climbing companions, but Byron’s shift from a male to female gender identity at 50 years old provides a challenge to their mateship that differs from any mountaineering obstacle. The mini documentary screened on SBS in Australia. The Spinoff’s Alex Casey called it a "moving, honest examination of an evolving friendship".
The HeART of the Matter looks at major changes in New Zealand teaching which began after World War ll. A group of bureaucrats and arts specialists set about introducing a "thoroughly bicultural and arts-centred education system" to schools — in contrast to the rote learning of the past. Combining interviews and archival footage, Luit and Jan Bieringa (The Man in the Hat) examine this period of radical educational reform, and ask what lessons can be applied to the present. In the excerpts above, pupils and teachers reminisce about their time in the classroom.
This documentary delves into Christchurch underground band Into the Void. The Black Sabbath-inspired group was formed in the late 80s by art school students Jason Greig, Paul Sutherland, Ronnie van Hout and Mark Whyte. Two decades spawned only two albums; the reputation of “Christchurch’s answer to Spinal Tap” rests on legendary live shows, with noise complaint-worthy riffs splitting ears at former bar Dux de Lux. Director Margaret Gordon assembled archive and interviews with band members and mates to capture the milieu of metal, booze, quakes and art.
This fourth season edition of the award-winning arts series is all about paint. Host Ross Liew meets three artists who are exploring the medium's expressive possibilities in diverse ways: Ally Maher uses paint to portray corrosion, patina and the breaking down of surfaces; he reveals the work he did on the now-scuppered vessel Manuia for Peter Jackson’s King Kong. Helen Calder uses gravity, coaxing paint off the surface to make new shapes and Glenn Burrell encases objects in paint to form a skin and removes the original object, leaving a paint replica.
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.
This Inside New Zealand documentary examines the experiences of four former members of the Exclusive Brethren, a fundamentalist Christian sect which shuns contact with the outside world. Those that leave become completely cut off from their families and friends remaining within the church — with often traumatic, and sometimes tragic, results. The Brethren, which played a controversial role in the 2005 General Election, forbid members to use radio, film, TV and the internet, but gave director Kathleen Mantel unprecedented access to their previously hidden world.
This Artsville profile of New Zealand artist Julia Morison was made in 2006, the year she became an Arts Laureate. Morison is filmed in her studio, “forming order from the chaos of her materials”. She explains how her tools and materials guide her image making — which in her 30 year career, has ranged across a variety of media. The film also features lesser-known work, among them collaborations with fellow artist Heather Straka (which include a series of short films), and a project entitled Madame and the Bastard.
This documentary looks at Christchurch-based experimental theatre company The Clinic. From 1999 the group began making concept-driven works — "idea[s] stemming from a dream, a conversation, or even a costume". Often characterised by multimedia collaborations, their performances took place in abandoned buildings, nightclubs or online. This excerpt explores the genesis of the company and their free-flowing ethos. It features The Peculiar Case of Clara Parsons, and a show in development at Christchurch Cathedral which includes writer Jo Randerson.
Salmonella Dub’s roots, dub, and drum’n’bass cocktail is shaken up on this single from their fifth album One Drop East. John Chrisstoffels’ energetic video won Juice TV’s Best R’n’b/Urban award in 2003. It borders on the claustrophobic as the camera gets right in amongst the band and an enthusiastic audience (swathed in appropriately rasta red, gold and green lighting). An apple-munching brass section might be a first but it’s megaphone-wielding singer Tiki Taane who is the centre of attention as he toasts up a storm.
This documentary tells the story of the legendary Flying Nun music label up to its 21st birthday. The label became associated with the 'Dunedin Sound': a catch-all term for a sprawl of DIY, post-punk, warped, jangly guitar-pop. The Guardian: "[it's] as if being on the other side of the world meant the music was played upside down". Features interviews with founder Roger Shepherd and many key players, the spats and the glory. The label's influence on the US indie scene is noted, and Pavement's Stephen Malkmus covers The Verlaines' 'Death and the Maiden'.
A group of skylarking young boys are out canvassing the neighbourhood at the same time as an elderly woman is losing the will to live. An unlocked front door presents an opportunity for the youths to rampage, unaware that anyone is home. The different energies of youth and old age are set on a collision course for tragedy in this confronting short film from writer-director Gregory King. Junk won gongs at the 2001 NZ Film Awards for best short and for John Chrisstoffels' cinematography. King has gone on to make features Christmas (2004) and A Song of Good (2008).
This Inside New Zealand doco takes a calm, no nonsense look at one man’s encounter with heroin addiction — a habit he estimates cost him a seven figure sum. Far from being the clichéd junkie loser, Tim was a husband, father and successful businessman who remarkably didn’t think twice about dabbling with a drug that had already taken the life of one of his sisters. Nine years after it led him to detox and rehab, Tim and his mother and sister talk about his addiction and its impact on their lives — without glamorising or demonising the drug or its users.
The Bats in a suitably enigmatic mood in a video directed by John Chrisstoffels that is as mysterious as the song itself. What was said that is causing the protagonist so much reflection is never really clear - and neither is the reason why the unidentifiable figure with the spade is burying cutlery and a barometer on a hillside high on Godley Head overlooking Pegasus Bay. Elsewhere the band perform at King Edward Barracks (now a parking lot in central Christchurch) and in their practice room, as well as with some of their favourite toys. [This video is made available by The Film Archive]
Off his own bat, Ilam art student Glenn Standring got his third-year short into competition at the Cannes Film Festival. The minimal plot — hipster private eye Lenny Minute dryly narrates, before facing his nemesis, a rampaging giant blue “sheila doll” — allows Standring to conjure up a distinctive collage-styled cityscape, mined from a grab-bag of Americana inspirations: 50s sci-fi, jazz, the hardboiled detectives of Dashiell Hammett, and star Marlene Dietrich. After this early computer-aided short, Standring joined the Gibson Group as an animator, then directed two stylish features.
The opening track from the second Jean-Paul Sartre Experience album indicates a significant change in tone for the band — more layered and expansive, and less angular than some of their earlier recordings. The video was directed and edited by John Chrisstoffels, who shot the stained glass windows and tile mosaics in Christchurch's Anglican Cathedral. JPSE vocalist and bass player Dave Yetton created the pulsing and spiraling video feedback effects. The band appears only fleetingly — in individual close-ups, filmed off a television screen by Chrisstoffels.
Flaming torches and streaming ribbons hanging off the front of the car are not your usual Kiwi road-trip accessories, but they're perfect visuals for this classic Bats song. Not to mention the iconic whirling burning guitar on the roadside. Alongside the imagery of motion, fluid camerawork tracks the band performing in front of a DIY Jackson Pollock-esque backdrop. Alister Parker (Gordons, Bailterspace), John Chrisstoffels, and Paul Kean (The Bats) are the directorial team. The song featured in Harry Sinclair movie Topless Women Talk About Their Lives.