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This beautiful and extraordinary film fully certainly deserves the title 'work of art'. Screening in 1993, it was the first programme to show in TV One’s Sunday night documentary slot which took that name.
Viewing the film from the perspective of 2008, one feels a palpable sense of loss at the passing of a talent like Robin Morrison, probably the single most influential New Zealand photographer of the past half century. He fused a sense of humanity with a mastery of colour, form, and mood to capture images that define an essence of this country.
With few words, mostly from the man himself, director John Bates and editor Bryan Shaw conjure up a biography composed mainly of images and journeys. Stuart Dryburgh’s gorgeous cinematography evokes the saturated colours and wide screen vistas of Morrison’s prints, without falling into the trap of ‘quoting’ his imagery. Rather, the tactic is to place Morrison’s pictures at the forefront, but surround them with characters, comments, and location photography that puts them into context.
In an interview, editor Bryan Shaw cited Sense of Place as his favourite of the films he had worked on. He said: “I was fortunate to work on a project where the subject was so articulate and his photography was so good. It was also shot on film, which was a treat for me – it just looks so nice and suited the topic." The music courtesy of Greg Johnson and Tom Ludvigson is also beautiful.
This is a film that could only have been made after intense scrutiny of the original works. Even viewers intimately familiar with the best known images, say from Morrison’s 1981 book, The South Island From the Road, will find fresh illumination here.
In a medium known for evanescence, this documentary is a rare work of sublime artistry and intelligence. Sense of Place: Robin Morrison, Photographer won Best Documentary at the 1994 New Zealand Film and Television awards, and got a certificate of merit at the 37th San Francisco International Film Festival.
- Costa Botes has shown his versatility by directing short films, dramas — and a long run of feature-length documentaries, on everything from eskimo dogs to jelly bean inventors. After coming up with the idea, he directed 1995's Forgotten Silver with Peter Jackson.