Arts and culture Creativity Generosity

Reeling in the talent

Some of the cast of Cold Fish
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Creativity and generosity have combined in Otago to produce 16 short films, some of which have screened at international festivals or won awards.

“Beautiful films are made that would never have been made, without people giving their time,” Theatreworks director Cindy Diver says.

Short Film Otago (SFO) chairman Allan Baddock agrees: “It’s Dunedin. Dunedin’s always collegial, supportive and generous.”

He says since SFO started in 2006, 20 per cent of its 16 films have been shown at the annual New Zealand International Film Festival. SFO films have screened at festivals around the world.

Last year Cold Fish won the best international short film award at the Ravenna Nightmare Film Festival in Italy. Eden has been shown as far away as Africa. Inc’d won prizes at the Tahiti Film Festival and three prizes at the Wairoa Māori Film Festival.

An award-winning film…the cast of Cold Fish, Jeffrey Thomas (third left), Oscar Cameron (centre holding clapper board) and Rosella Hart (fifth from right) with the crew on location at Smails Beach, Dunedin. Photo: supplied.

Allan says of the 300 to 400 people who’ve made these Otago films, between 40 and 50 percent have gone on to work in the film industry.

You hone your skills, demonstrate what you can do and it leads on to greater things.”

Short Film Otago chairman Allan Baddock. Photo: supplied.

Tapping into the local community

With SFO, experienced film-makers support new and emerging writers and filmmakers to create films in the province, enlisting the local community as crew, actors, caterers and in other spheres.

“What we’re aiming to do is support film-making in Otago. Part of it is tapping into the local community and working with the local community to create opportunities and provide experience.”

SFO supports potential film-makers from their initial idea through the script-writing process, utilising seasoned script editors. Then each year SFO chooses two or three short films to fund with $10,000 each.

Allan says the Otago Community Trust grants this money and a “great bunch” of experienced film-makers on the SFO Board contribute a similar amount for free by giving skills, time and advice.

The Otago film industry gives double this amount: screen production houses provide facilities, individuals assist. Natural History New Zealand has been “hugely supportive”, as have Taylormade, The Video Factory and the Queenstown Camera Company.

“They do it because they want to encourage film-making in the region,” he says. They also realise that successful film-making will increase the number of local professional film-makers.

Success stories

Allan says short films are between 10 and 15 minutes long. Industry rationale is that if people can learn how to make short films, show these at festivals and establish their credentials, then after a few short films, they may attract the backing to make a feature film.

The New Zealand Film Commission funds short films for the same reason, however it also requires experience.

“Whereas we say ‘come with talent and passion…and we’ll help you get the experience’.”

He shares several success stories. One is of Inc’d co-writer and director Darren Simmonds, who made a short film with SFO years ago, then went on to make Inc’d. Following its release, he was asked to co-direct the New Zealand feature film Umbrella Man.

Films made under the SFO umbrella cover a variety of topics, Allan says.

One being completed now called Milk is a drama about a submarine turning up near Otago Peninsula and another is an exquisitely beautiful stop-frame animation, Winter’s Blight.

On location: the cast of Milk at Whareakeake Beach, Dunedin: (from left) Mike Hoffmann, Jodie Hillock and Peter Volksdorf. Photo: Bruce Hunt.

The central character warms himself at the wood-stove in Winter’s Blight, Short Film Otago’s latest stop-motion animated film currently in production. Photo: supplied.

Stop-frame animation is used in the Wallace & Gromit films and Allan explains it is painstaking, intense work. Film-makers construct physical characters which they manually adjust for every movement, filming frame by frame.

Engaging young people and diverse communities

SFO is piloting a schools programme to engage more young people. Allan says some school students study film-making, however after they’ve left school there are few clear pathways to a career.

“There is a gap between school and those coming to us.”

Allan hopes other future SFO film-makers will come from the Pasifika and former refugee communities.

Life can be intimidating when refugees arrive in a new country and culture, he says. They may sense that probably not many want to know their story, yet SFO could help reach an audience and provide infrastructure, support and expertise.

“Let’s face it, dramatic storytelling is universal,” he says.

But when you’ve spent five years in a refugee camp, you don’t necessarily come with that confidence that somebody here is going to come alongside you and make a film.”

Yet more creativity and generosity may be part of changing this scene.

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For more information:

View some SFO films (scroll down).

Check out the forthcoming New Zealand International Film Festival.

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