“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.
“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angles: as an archeology of films and filmmakers underappreciated or ignored; as a study of images, both celebrated and outdated; as a form of advocacy for art on the margins; and as a challenge to the status quo around how national identity is represented in our movies.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
The 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).