Getting to Our Place is a fascinating look into the birth of Te Papa that vividly captures the pressures and culture clashes attendent in designing a national museum in 90s New Zealand. Postmodern theory meets commercial pragmatism, and bi-cultural building and brand consultants meet brick walls.
If this sounds unexciting as the premise for a film, the inherent fascination of going behind the scenes of such a self-conscious national identity-building project shouldn't be underestimated. Many of the major personalities are represented - CEO Cheryll Sotheran, Chairperson of the Te Papa board Sir Ron Trotter, Kaihautu Cliff Whiting, fellow board member and art patron Jenny Gibbs, and historian Jock Phillips amongst others. This makes for some lively viewing.
Peter Calder in a New Zealand Herald review wrote that the doco has, "many of the hallmarks of a thriller."
Much of the film's footage is gathered from board and staff meetings where concepts for the exhibitions that would open the new museum were hammered out. It was co-directed by Gaylene Preston and Anna Cottrell. Preston's role in the project tended towards producing, while Cottrell was primarily involved with directing the fly-on-the-wall footage that makes this film so compelling.
Te Papa emerged with a new mandate in the mid-90s from the amalgamation of the National Museum and the National Art Gallery. It had to attract all New Zealanders, be bi-cultural, raise money for its new building on Wellington's waterfront, and generate income from its operations. This mandate isn't explored in the film but underpins many of the discussions - institutional thinking changed considerably as a result, and creative and commercial interests were set to collide. What the film does show is the torturous process by which this mandate was delivered: the presentations to the board, the decision-making by committee.
The film begins with the building in its early stages and hints at flashpoints that are explored later on. Four other sections look at the issues that were hardest to resolve: the Treaty of Waitangi exhibition, the development of a new brand for the museum, the place of the marae in this bi-cultural institution, and its funding contract with the Ministry of Culture and Heritage. These sections are interspersed with images showing how these issues were worked out: the opening ceremony, the wonderful marae space, and the thumbprint logo.