Out of the Mist: An Alternate History of New Zealand Cinema

“A film made and received on its own terms will often say more about this country than one fixated on the literal and the absolute.”

Two decades on from Cinema of Unease, Tim Wong’s ambitious essay film contemplates the prevailing image of a national cinema while privileging some of the images and image-makers displaced by the popular view of filmmaking in New Zealand.
 

Out of the Mist is an alternate reading of New Zealand’s obscure cinematic heritage, narrated by Man Booker prizewinner Eleanor Catton, and illustrated with excerpts from over 70 feature films, shorts, documentaries, and artworks. It premiered at the New Zealand International Film Festival on July 20, 2015.

Director’s Statement

“The long absence of another major documentary on our film history was a strong motivating factor behind Out of the Mist. But aside from the opportunity to update the record, what has really driven its making is the conversation I’ve shared with fellow cinephiles and filmmakers about the state of New Zealand Cinema, how we might begin to redefine it, and whose work is being obscured by the popular canon.

“My contribution to this conversation was, through a questioning tone, to script an essay film with many different openings, so that it could be viewed from multiple angles: as an archeology of films and filmmakers underappreciated or ignored; as a study of images, both celebrated and outdated; as a form of advocacy for art on the margins; and as a challenge to the status quo around how national identity is represented in our movies.

“In researching our film heritage, I’ve had to make some tough decisions on what to leave out. Reluctant omissions include the legacy of Barry Barclay and the work of other indigenous filmmakers; the Vanguard Films collective; the Aro Valley Digital Cinema movement, alongside wider experimental and avant-garde impulses; Hollywood prestige pictures Green Dolphin Street, Until They Sail, plus other early examples of international productions made in or about New Zealand; Rudall Hayward’s silent comedies and period films; mockumentary Forgotten Silver, an important callback to our unknown film pre-history as well as a commentary on philistine culture; and the list goes on.

“The reasons for these choices are rarely creative. Rather, they tend to be dictated by time, money, and access. More of those three things would have yielded a longer and more inclusive narrative, one that was more spacious with its arguments and more conducive to close readings of individual films. At the same time, it would not exist at all without the generosity of so many filmmakers, nor would it sound the same without Eleanor Catton’s voice—her thoughtful narration carries an intellectual authority, if not a touch of irony, that reflects her standing within our current artistic and critical culture. I’m grateful for her involvement, as well as for the creative talent I was surrounded with, in particular editor Peter O’Donoghue and producer Melinda Jackson.

“Out of the Mist can present only one forgotten history among many possible others. By moving against the grain of established thought, hopefully it can inspire other alternate responses to New Zealand Cinema’s past, present, and future.”

Tim Wong is the founding editor of The Lumière Reader. He specialises in film and visual arts criticism, has covered film festivals in Europe and North America, and was the only New Zealand-based critic invited to vote on Sight and Sound’s decennial “Ten Greatest Films of All Time” poll in 2012. He is also a web and graphic designer.

From the New Zealand International Film Festival

NZIFF_selection_logoThe best conversation you have about movies this year may be the one you have in your head watching and listening to Tim Wong’s advocacy for some remarkable New Zealand films and filmmakers who don’t make it into the standard tour guides. The regular line-up is shrewdly characterised in the process too, but there’s no rancour in his account of the mainstream, magnificently and absurdly characterised by a sweeping shot of the Southern Alps from a 50s travelogue while Orson Welles savours every syllable of ‘Aorangi’, ‘Aotearoa’ and ‘Māori’ on the soundtrack; he cuts soon enough to civil war on the streets in Merata Mita’s Patu!, and the voice we will hear delivering Wong’s narration belongs to one of our own, Eleanor Catton. Most of the other films Wong feeds into the conversation are much less generally known and barely political at all. There are such tantalising excerpts on display that we wish we had the space on our schedule to bring you the screenings you’ll be craving of myriad cinematic treasures, not least Annie Goldson’s Wake (1994), Tony Williams’ Next of Kin (1982), Gabriel White’s Oracle Drive (2013) and maybe even Cinerama South Seas Adventure (1958).

Filmography

An inventory of every feature film, short, and documentary cited in Out of the Mist, with annotations on availability, is hosted at LETTERBOXD. If you’re interested in watching any of these films, please do so by supporting our partners NZ ON SCREEN and ARO VIDEO.
The following selected works are currently free to view online:
Don’t Let It Get You (John O’Shea, 1966)
Journey for Three (Michael Forlong, 1950)
Lost in the Garden of the World (Tony Williams, 1975)
The Maintenance of Silence (William Keddell, 1985)
Oracle Drive (Gabriel White, 2013)
Patu! (Merata Mita, 1983)
Rud’s Wife (Alison Maclean, 1986)
Snows of Aorangi (Brian Brake, 1955)
This is Expo (Hugh Macdonald, 1971)
Winter (Amie Siegel, 2013; installation view, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki)

Resources

Some recommended viewing on New Zealand film history:
Campbell Walker is a Friend of Mine (2010), Elric Kane’s introductory survey to the Aro Valley Digital film movement.
The Camera on the Shore (2009), Graeme Tuckett’s tribute to the late Barry Barclay.
Cinema of Unease (1995), Sam Neill’s personal journey through New Zealand film for the BFI’s Century of Cinema series.
Breaking Barriers (1993), a TV documentary on film pioneer John O’Shea, considered a “godfather to generations of Kiwi filmmakers.”
Cowboys of Culture (1990), Geoff Steven’s personal perspective on the New Zealand Cinema renaissance of the 1970s and 80s.
NZ Cinema, the Past Decade (1987), another perspective on the New Zealand Cinema renaissance via TVNZ’s flagship 1980s arts show, Kaleidoscope.

Press

18.12.2015   4:3’s Conor Bateman on the best digital-release documentaries of 2015.
10.11.2015   Tim Wong discusses the online release of “Out of the Mist” on Radio New Zealand’s Upbeat.
05.11.2015   “Out of the Mist” on Public Address, with a director’s introduction.
30.08.2015   The Best Worst Podcasters have a conversation about “Out of the Mist” (1’15’14”).
30.07.2015   “Out of the Mist” on Radio New Zealand’s At the Movies with Simon Morris.
30.07.2015   Conor Bateman at 4:3 reviews “Out of the Mist”.
24.07.2015   Dan Slevin and Doug Dillaman discuss “Out of the Mist” on the Rancho Notorious podcast (43’00”).
22.07.2015   David Larsen’s notes on “Out of the Mist” for Metro.
21.07.2015   Steve Austin at the 13th Floor reviews “Out of the Mist”.
20.07.2015   Tim Wong interviewed by Charlie Gates for Fairfax Media.
16.07.2015   Via the New Zealand Herald online, Dominic Corry’s ten films festival fans need to see.
15.07.2015   The Pantograph Punch picks for NZIFF 2015.
14.07.2015   For A Fistful of Culture, Hugh Lilly’s five must-see films at NZIFF 2015.
26.06.2015   On Radio New Zealand’s Upbeat, Bill Gosden talks this year’s NZIFF line-up, including “Out of the Mist” (18’30”).
25.06.2015   On Radio New Zealand’s At the Movies, Bill Gosden previews NZIFF 2015, highlighting “Out of the Mist” (22’30”).
23.06.2015   “Out of the Mist” highlighted by 4:3’s Conor Bateman.
Out of the Mist on LETTERBOXDNZ ON SCREENIMDBNZIFFNZ LISTENERSTUFFSCREENZDARREN’S WORLDLEN LYE CENTREFLICKS
 
NZOnAir“The Lumière Reader presents” is a web series of original essay films and digital documentaries made with funding from NZ On Air. Advocating for art on the margins, these films seek to engage with fellow artists, thinkers, and practitioners—particularly those whose work has been neglected, misunderstood, or obscured by popular media and culture.

Credits

Written and Directed by Tim Wong
Produced by Melinda Jackson
Narrated by Eleanor Catton
Director of Photography: Daniel Rose
Additional stills: Andy Palmer
Editor: Peter O’Donoghue
Music composed and performed by Svenda Ström
Produced, engineered and performed by Jason Erskine
Narration and sound mix by Big Pop Studios
Script advisors: Alexander Bisley, Doug Dillaman, Brannavan Gnanalingam
Legal: Steven Price, Mick Sinclair
Publicist: Rebecca McMillian
Series Producer: Tim Wong
Supported by: Aro Video, NZ On Screen
Film clips supplied by: Images & Sound, Archives New Zealand Te Rua Mahara o te Kāwanatanga, Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision
SPECIAL THANKS
Andrew Armitage at Aro Video; Kim Baker and Ian Pryor at NZ On Screen; Eve Chessmur and Glen Cleaver at Big Pop Studios; Jane Anderson at Images & Sound; Kate Larkindale at the New Zealand Film Commission; Emma Richardson and Jamie Lean at Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
Tae Allison, Russell Campbell, Anna Dean, Claire Duncan, Jeff Hurrell, Hugh Macdonald, Luke McPake, Thomasin Sleigh, Tony Williams, Alex Mitcalfe Wilson; Wellington International Airport; Brenda Leeuwenberg at NZ On Air; Bill Gosden at the New Zealand International Film Festival; and all the artists and filmmakers without whom this production would not have been possible.
The Lumière Reader presents
in association with NZ On Air
“Out of the Mist”
© Lumière Industries 2015
Release date: November 5, 2015