Simone Horrocks & ‘After the Waterfall’
Writer/director Simone shared her story on Wellywood Woman from 2009. I’m very sad she’s no longer making films.
Simone was a particularly generous interviewee. Our long interview — here among other Wellywood Woman updates about her and her work— is a rich one, and especially a must-read for anyone interested in filmmaker courage and resilience and the relationships between motherhood and directing films.
Her email to me, last week, completes her story (so far!).
A lovely day!
A new feature with a woman writer/director starts production! Have put a little button on the sidebar and will add more links when they’re available.
After the Waterfall is Simone Horrocks’ adaptation of Stephen Blanchard’s The Paraffin Child.
And there’s an historic moment to celebrate. The NZFC site lists fourteen recent features — including docos — it has funded, either in production or released. Six have women directors (a seventh is in pre-production). This is a long way from a comment I heard from a woman filmmaker almost three years ago: “ ‘They’ can only cope with one of us at a time.”
Another filmmaker said then: “If the NZFC knows there is a gender problem, the decision-makers will fix it.” Has this happened? Has it made any difference, measuring and writing about the NZFC gender statistics? I may never know. When I started, probably all of these films were already in development. But now, as I write up my thesis, I have a lot more hope than I used to have.
But I’m still convinced that there should be legislation for ongoing transparency about, and accountability for, NZFC’s investment in women’s stories. So that this positive trend is monitored and acknowledged. And any future counter-trend is identified and addressed.
‘After the Waterfall’ — The Interview
After The Waterfall is the only New Zealand feature in the New Zealand International Film Festival that a woman — Simone Horrocks — has written and directed. It premiered in Beijing earlier this month, as part of the 5th New Zealand Film Festival in the People’s Republic of China. Here’s Simone speaking at the premiere.
Simone first attracted international attention when she was a semi-finalist for the prestigious Sundance Institute/NHK Filmmaker’s Award in 2001. She has written and directed several short films, notably Spindrift, winner of the Best Panorama Short Film award at the Berlin Film Festival, and New Dawn, commissioned by the Edinburgh Film Festival to mark the launch of UK Film Four’s Lab. I knew almost nothing about her. So I peppered her with emailed questions. And was truly delighted with her generous responses.
Q: You say you’re ‘under the radar’ here and I wonder why. You left New Zealand, lost yourself in Europe, found yourself studying film in London, worked for several years behind the camera, shifted your focus to writing and directing and came back in 2001. What brought you back? What other films have you made? What have you been doing since you came back?
A: By 2001 I had a family, and we came back to New Zealand for lots of reasons, but the main one was that my daughter had just started high school in London (they start a year younger there than here so she was 11), and while we did everything we could to find the best available school for her, it was pretty tough. We came back to NZ for a holiday on Waiheke Island, and while there I spotted a brochure for Waiheke High School. I saw they only had 550 students, the school had almost 360degree sea views, and that you could do surfing for NCEA. Compared to what was on offer in London, it was a no-brainer. My husband is English, but he’s always wanted to try living somewhere else, the time was right, so we came back.
I’d been living in England for a long time (almost 20 years). I ran riot for a few years, and I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I was always interested in photography. I started getting interested in lighting, and did some night classes for City and Guilds, then decided to go back to University and study film and photography full time. I made a short film in the restaurant I was working in, and edited it at the London Film Makers Co-op. That short film got me a place at two different film schools, but I chose the Polytechnic of Central London (now known as The University of Westminster) because it was one of only three film courses in England that was union recognised. That meant when you graduated you got a union card, and in those days (the early 90s), that was a big deal. I went to film school with the intention of working behind the camera, and for a few years I did, but I was always dreaming up ideas for my own films. I made the decision to give up camera after my first short film Spindrift won an award at the Berlin Film Festival, and put all my energy into writing and directing. I can honestly say that if I’d known then what I know now, I may not have made that decision, but nevertheless, that’s what I did.
Over the next few years I got funding for two more short films, did the rounds with writing samples, and that eventually got me through a few doors. After The Waterfall is my first feature film, but it is not the first feature I have developed. After two other feature projects in England got close to funding, but then fell over, I decided to do something you’re always told not to do, and put all my eggs in one basket. I decided it was The Paraffin Child (as After The Waterfall was then called) or bust. I had already got some development funding from British Screen in London, so the project arrived in NZ with me at first draft stage.
When I first came back to NZ, a lot of my energy went into settling the family, but I did a wedding video (not to be repeated), finished off a short film project I had brought over from England, and took on some editing work. For a while it was quite hard for myself, and my husband, Richard Flynn, who is a location sound recordist, in terms of making contacts, and getting to know people in the industry. It was almost like starting again.
The Paraffin Child was reactivated when producer Trevor Haysom came on board in 2002, and I then devoted myself to writing full time in the belief that that’s what it would take to get the film made. Of course you never think it’s going to take as long as it does, but I was drip fed funding, so I just kept going. We took The Paraffin Child to the New Zealand Film Commission (NZFC) board for production funding in 2006, but it was turned down. A difficult year followed as we tried to get it back up again, and went down some very dark roads. Finally I tried to kill it. There comes a point when it’s just better to let it go. After a staff change at the NZFC in 2008, it seemed there was still an interest in the team, and a will to work with us, but we were told that if the project was to continue with them, that it would have to become something new. I was very reluctant to go back into development but after meeting Marilyn Milgrom (the new Development Executive) I knew that I could work with her. I had been down so many roads with this project, that as long as we remained true to the original idea, I was happy to go at it from a new angle.
I was living on Waiheke Island during this time, and spent a lot of it in the garret writing, so that’s what I mean by being under the radar. It was self inflicted. But I crossed the water in January 2008, and made After The Waterfall in 2009, so I feel like I’ve finally landed.
Q: Are you related to New Zealand’s other film Horrockses?
A: Roger Horrocks is my father, Shirley Horrocks is my stepmother, and Dylan Horrocks (cartoonist and author of the iconic graphic novel Hicksville) is my brother. Matthew Horrocks and I are not related, but no doubt share some Lancashire roots.
My mother, Eleanor Rimoldi, was born in Buffalo NY State, in the USA, and at the age of 21 jumped on a ship to New Zealand (in the days before you needed a passport), stepped off in Auckland, walked up Queen St, had a burger and a milkshake at a cafe next to the Civic and never looked back. She fell in love with the South Pacific, and is passionate about Islands. She is an anthropologist, and her specialist area is Papua New Guinea (more specifically the island of Buka). She is a traveller and did spend chunks of time away during my childhood, but is not absent. She lives on Waiheke Island, and teaches at Massey University (Albany Campus).
Films have always been around me. My father was involved with film societies, and in the early days of the film festival, he also taught one of NZ’s first film and media courses, and as kids, my brother and I often went along to screenings. Particularly memorable were Jaws, and Last Tango in Paris, no doubt partly because they weren’t entirely age appropriate. Another very memorable experience was being pulled out of bed one night and taken in our pyjamas to a cinema on Queen St, where a projectionist friend was holding a preview screening of a new print of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001. There was only the four of us there, and I’m sure my father assumed my brother and I would get bored and go to sleep. But I was totally transfixed by that film and it remains one of my favourite film experiences of all time. We worked out the other day that I must have been 6 years old at the time. I also remember being taken to anti-apartheid meetings, and seeing political documentaries that had been smuggled out of South Africa, they were powerful films, and as a child had a profound effect on me.
Q: You’ve written that you sought the rights to The Paraffin Child when you read a review. Did you run round to the writer’s place with that bottle of wine as a bribe before you’d even read the book? If so, once you read the book, what persuaded you that you’d done the right thing?
A: I read a review of The Paraffin Child, then read the book, and then contacted Stephen Blanchard’s agent. His agent gave me his home number, and told me to give him a ring. Of course if you call a writer and say the word ‘film’, their eyes light up and they immediately think ‘Spielberg’, so it was important to me to meet Stephen, and be honest about the fact that I was at an early stage of my career, and didn’t have a lot of money, but that if he agreed to let me option the film rights to his novel, I would really commit to it. I would invest my time. A lot of authors find their books optioned, and then shelved — sometimes for years — so I think my personal commitment to getting it made meant something to Stephen. He came to a screening of my short films and liked them, and we took it from there.
I know what it takes to get a film made, and I would never, ever make a proposition like this — especially with my own money — unless I was really sure about it. The decision was instinctive, and no doubt somehow pathological, Stephen’s book haunted me, something got under my skin and made me want to investigate it. And I never doubted that choice. I was in the world of that book for so long, and I never grew tired of it, and now that it’s over, I still sometimes find myself missing it.
Q: The review that said that the message at the book’s heart was: “Sometimes a mystery remains a mystery, and an absence an absence, which we have to deal with as best we can.” Why did this appeal to you so strongly?
A: As I said, it’s no doubt something pathological. For me there’s something beautiful about that statement, something dark, but strangely beautiful.
Q: One of the most difficult things about writing the screenplay was the fact that that so much of this story would be told through looks rather than dialogue, which for you is one of the most powerful things about cinema. How did you resolve that difficulty? What strategies did you use? What other difficulties did you have, and how did you resolve those? Did you have any readers who were particularly helpful, and if so how were they helpful?
A: A screenplay is just a blueprint. It is not, and never will be, the ‘film on the page’, but scripts are also selling documents and therefore (unless you can distract people with an A-list star) need to read as if they are. It’s a difficult thing because making the film is yet another stage of development, and there’s nothing worse than seeing a film that feels like a ‘filmed script’ and has no life of its own, or reading an over written script that doesn’t give you, or your potential collaborators space to dream.
Feedback is the key for me. I am a feedback junkie. The project needs an anchor, so finding a producer, and a script editor, or developer to work with, who gets what you are trying to do, is crucial. This is something you know straight away. You can disagree about things, and you can want to make things better, but if the person you are working with doesn’t ‘get it’ right off, then I believe they never will. This can be tough. Especially in an environment with so few funding opportunities, but it’s a fact of life. Everything we do is personal, whether we like it or not, and it’s no reflection on a person’s talent, or expertise, or skill, but if you’re going to work with someone, then I believe something — deep down — has to click, or they can’t help you.
So I give my work out often, and to a wide variety of people to read, some people won’t get it, and that’s fine. Others will, and that’s when I listen carefully, and you never know what’s going to help. You really never know. It’s so random. Sometimes it’s the things that hurt the most that you really need to hear. Sometimes you need to be reminded of what’s working. I LOVE writer’s labs. Any opportunity to get together with other writers and directors is gold dust. I have learnt so much from these labs and the people I met there, that I can’t thank the universe enough. For this film, my special mentions would have to go to Catherine Fitzgerald (who was script editor on the project during its first incarnation as The Paraffin Child), Graeme Tetley, Joan Scheckel, Diana Rowan, Steffen Harris and Marilyn Milgrom. Each of them opened doors for me at key points in the process of development.
Q: It took a long time to get After the Waterfall financed. Telling the story through looks rather than dialogue was one problem you’ve identified that made financing difficult. What were the others? Is it a co-production? Beyond tenacity and hard work, what do you think got you through that barrier between advanced development and production funding: good connections, good timing, good luck, good allies? Any key experiences here? Any advice for other filmmakers?
A: Getting from advanced development to green light, is the last tough bit of the climb. You can see the summit, you’re ninety five percent there, and you’re clinging to the side of the mountain, in high winds, hanging on for dear life, and you’ve given it all you’ve got, and you can either go up and achieve your goal, or you can go down. And it’s a long way down. So it’s the last five percent, but it’s the toughest five percent. People can be intrigued by your idea, they can even love your idea, but getting people to actually sign a check is another thing altogether. And fair enough too, it costs a lot of money to make a film, even a low budget one. And you can’t do it on your own, so many things have to come together at the same time: producer, distributor, actors, crew, the market, the finance … all have to come together with the will to make it happen. It’s really a miracle that films get made at all.
When it comes to advice I don’t know what to say. Every project is different. You have to push, but you also have to be responsive. Pace yourself. You can’t go at it at full throttle for years and years or you’ll just burn out. Take breaks. I could say don’t give up, but it was just at the point that I did give up that we had our big break. And for a while there it felt good to know that I could make it stop. Stopping is always an option.
I can’t say for sure what finally got us there, because in the end, it was out of my hands. But if I did play a part in getting us over the hump, then I think it was probably in my final pitch to the NZFC board. The perception was that this was a risky film, and it was a first film, and I believe that it went right up to the wire with us. Because we had been turned down before, I decided that if it happened again, I didn’t want it to be because I hadn’t given it everything I’ve got. I actually wrote a speech and practised it over and over again, for two weeks with my son as my ears. It’s hard to pour your heart out in a board room situation like that, it’s very intimidating. But I was determined to make an impression.
Q: As you may know, women write only about 28% of the features in early development at the NZFC, and then their participation falls away; women write and direct only 16% of the features the NZFC funds for production. What do you think helped your project in particular? Did it make a difference that the protagonist is a man? Did you have any experiences where your gender made a difference? Any advice for women filmmakers?
A: I’m not sure I really believe in gender. What I mean by that is that I don’t think men and women are that different. I once heard a news item about an Inuit (I think it was Inuit!) tribe that had 17 different words for gender. Maybe that would be more helpful — some men are more feminine, some women are more masculine, some are transgender, transsexual, hermaphrodite, gay, bi-sexual … maybe two categories aren’t enough … In the end we’re all just bi-organisms with fetishes and the capacity to love.
But of course the statistics are real, and the stereotypes and social constructs we live with are real, I just try not to think about them. But it’s always shocking when someone puts you in your place. When I worked as focus puller I’d sometimes turn up for a job and a spark would roll his eyes and say (in front of me): “Extra work today boys”. I think the way to be accepted is just to do your job, and do it well. I’d make a point of never letting anyone help me lift or carry anything, and eventually the jokes would just fade away. I would say, generally speaking, I was pretty well accepted, but I worked hard for that, and I was always aware that what I was doing was unusual.
I have two children, and my career has grown with them. I discovered I was pregnant with my daughter the same week I learnt I had been accepted at film school. I had fought for so long to get a place (and it was a very competitive course) that I was terrified of losing it, but I wanted the baby too. I finally worked up the courage to tell the head of school (who was male) and he shocked me by saying: “Great, I love babies, just bring it along.” So in my naivety I did. I’d get as far as I could through lectures, and then I’d be breastfeeding on fire escapes. I even brought her to set sometimes. It was a kind of madness, but I was very young, and I was terrified of letting the opportunity go. Of course this wasn’t very practical for anyone, so after a few months I found a childminder. The school never allowed this to happen again, I know that a student got pregnant a year or two after me, but after the disruption I had caused, no one was ever allowed to bring a baby anywhere near the premises again. And of course, nor should they, babies and film sets don’t mix. But in a way I was lucky, because it did mean I could keep going.
Seven years later, I found myself pregnant with my second child, just as I was shortlisted for my first funded short film, by The British Film Institute. The scheme was very competitive, and I was worried that that if anyone knew, it might affect my chances, so I just didn’t tell anyone. After a series of workshops, the twelve film makers who had been short listed, gradually got whittled down to three, and then, miraculously, I got the green light. During pre-production, I was at the British Film Institute one day (which was our production office), and their production manager was looking at me side on as I did some photocopying, and she suddenly said: “Oh my god, you’re pregnant!” It was only a five day shoot, and things were pretty advanced by then, so they didn’t have much choice but to let me get on with it. I had to sign all sorts of insurance wavers, so I was seven months pregnant when I made Spindrift, and my son was born between picture lock, and the final sound mix.
When I was a camera assistant in London in the early 90s, the unions were still very powerful, and there were very few women doing the job. I only knew of three women directors of photography in England at the time, but I was lucky enough to meet one of them. Nina Kellgren held a workshop at my film school and I made a point of meeting her afterwards, because I amazed to find out she was also a solo mother (which I was at the time). It helped me just to know it was possible. I used to ring her up occasionally and say “Just tell me it’s possible”, and she would say, “It’s possible”, and I would hang up. And it helped. She actually gave me some of my first paid work and I am very grateful for that too.
Sometimes you do just hit a brick wall. The most shocking thing that ever happened to me was while working for an ex-BBC cameraman on a documentary about a women’s football team in the north of England. I’d been working as a camera assistant for a couple of years at this point, but I never told anyone I had a young daughter. I was often asked to travel, and usually at short notice, and I just didn’t want the fact that I had a child to enter into the equation. This job required being away for almost seven weeks, and after a particularly tough day the cameraman I was working for told me how much he was missing his wife and new baby. I cracked and told him I had a three year old daughter, and that I was missing her too. He looked at me and said: “You have a three year old daughter? Then what the hell are you doing here!” He was so shocked, he just couldn’t believe it, he said: “ If you keep working like this, your daughter will be screwed for life.” I’d done several jobs for this cameraman, but he never employed me again.
Of course his words haunted me. The film industry is not a family friendly industry, for men or for women. It’s tough the way we work, it makes it hard to maintain relationships. When my daughter started school, I really felt the need to be around when she came home. I hadn’t always been there for her while she was a baby, and I have some very real regrets about that. So I took a year off and did a screenwriting course. When people asked me why I gave up camera to become a director, I’d say I looked around on set, and the only people who were allowed to have a family (or at least had enough power that if they needed to bring the kid and a nanny with them to work, they could) were the director, the producer and the stars. I’m not good with money, and I can’t act, so I joked that if I wanted to stay in the business, my only option was to direct.
After The Waterfall has a male protagonist, and it is very much a film about men, and about communication between men. As a director I’m interested in all my characters, I don’t distinguish between them on the basis of gender. Having said that, while this is my first film, it is not the first film I have developed. The other two projects had female protagonists, but in the end they didn’t just get the money. I don’t know if that was a factor, but statistically it is harder for women directors to get a film funded, and it’s even harder still if the hero is a woman. So you just have to be aware of that.
Q: The director of photography was Jac Fitzgerald, for whom it was also a first feature. You’ve said “Jac really understood the story, and embraced the importance of putting the actors at the heart of our process. We were committed to working in whatever weather we were sent, and as always in Auckland this meant dealing with sudden and frequent changes. We had a tight schedule, and it was a tough shoot for Jac and her team, but she did a great job.” I love the photos with you and Jac. What made you choose her? What other work has she done?
A: For a long time I had been talking to Adam Clark who works with Taika Waititi, but Boy got funding around the same time as we did, and in the end our shoots overlapped, so he wasn’t able to do it. I wanted to find someone else who was (what I call) a ‘storytelling cameraperson’, in other words, someone who was interested in telling the story in a visual way, rather than just making it look pretty. I knew that this film was all about faces, and that it would live or die by its performances, so it was also important to me that the person we chose would be comfortable with a shooting-style that was performance-led, and a good camera operator. I watched lots of films, and lots of short films, and in the end what drew me to Jac was that after each of her short films (and she has shot quite a few) I could close my eyes and remember the story as a series of images. Jac had done a mixture of commercials and shorts. Her work was visually inventive, and she was passionate about the script. We met, and made connections very quickly. As Trevor said, “It was like she’d downloaded our brains.” She also came recommended by Kirsty Cameron (our Costume Designer, and a director in her own right), and that meant a lot.
Q: What were the pleasures and difficulties of the shoot and the post-production?
A: I can honestly say I loved every minute of making this film, and it wasn’t without struggle, but I was in heaven every single minute. It was a long time coming for me, and I just wanted to come out of it knowing I had no regrets. And I don’t. Of course there will always be the things you wish you had could have done better, I’m not saying it’s perfect, but I’m proud of what we have achieved.
Q: You’ve said that “Apart from the novel which provided the initial inspiration, After the Waterfall is a 100% New Zealand film, and New Zealand will be our most important audience”. What makes it a New Zealand film?
A: What I mean by that, is simply that the funding, and all of the cast and crew are from New Zealand.
Q: You’ve also said “Some people say my films are dark, but I say darkness has its own light.” Can you explain this a bit?
A: I’m obsessed with the truth. A lot of people think I’m obsessed with the dark things in life, but my husband once told me, he thinks it’s because I find beauty in the truth. But the truth is sometimes hard to take, it’s hard to look at, and it’s hard to live. It’s especially hard when it’s about the dark places in our own hearts. I am the Queen of Denial, denial runs in my veins like blood. I read somewhere that you should never take a person’s denial away, denial is a form of necessary protection, and I know this to be true. But I think there’s something we can learn from the dark places in life, but this knowledge — this light — is hard won.
Q: What will happen now, with After the Waterfall? When will it go on general release? And what will be your next project?
A: After the Waterfall had its world premiere in Beijing in June, and will have its New Zealand premiere at the Auckland Film Festival on 14 July. There will be two further Film Festival screenings in Auckland and two in Wellington. We have a Facebook page which we will update with further news, and a website on the way.
I am currently working on a fantasy film called Black Skies Blue, which is based on a book my brother Dylan Horrocks is writing. He pitched it to me while we were tramping in the Urewera, and I couldn’t get it out of my head. I have extracted a portion of the plot, and am writing a ‘sister version’ of the story. I went to Beijing for the premiere of After the Waterfall, and I loved it, I haven’t been so excited about a place since I ran away to London, so my new dream is to make a film there … But I am also available for work — I am so available! Now that I’m out of the garret I don’t want to get stuck back there, I want to keep directing … anything at all. No job too small.
Q: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
A: Thank you.
Marian: And I’ve just noticed that Cushla Dillon edited After the Waterfall. So I’d like to add that —
July 14, 8.30pm, Skycity Theatre
July 22, 8.15pm, Bridgeway Cinema
July 24, 8.15pm, Bridgeway Cinema
July 30, 8.30pm, Soundings Theatre, Te Papa
July 31, 3.45pm, Soundings Theatre, Te Papa
You can book here.
After the Waterfall — in cinemas any moment
After the Waterfall, Simone Horrocks’ responses to my questions, is one of the most popular Wellywoodwoman posts ever.
So all of you who read her story and loved it, here’s your chance to see the movie, if you live in New Zealand. After the Waterfall opens in cinemas on November 4th. Our other women-directed features, Gaylene Preston’s Home by Christmas, and Rosemary Riddell’s The Insatiable Moon (currently number 7 in New Zealand’s top 10, and accompanied by Mike Riddell’s legendary blog) have done so well this year. I’m hoping that After the Waterfall will too, if we all support it, especially on its opening weekend. (And there are more women’s features to come: Roseanne Liang’s My Wedding and Other Secrets is in post-production and has a brand new Facebook page. Kirstin Macon’s The Most Fun You Can Have Dying is on its way.)
And for all you Outrageous Fortune fans, at some After the Waterfall screenings there are opportunities to see and hear Antony Starr. LIVE!
All updates are on After the Waterfall’s Facebook page.
“Our cinema window is small so if you want to see it on the big screen don’t dally …
We are hosting the following special screenings:
Prescreening Sunday Oct 31st, Paramount Wellington @ 7.30pm, free glass of wine for advance bookings which can only be made by phone: 04 384 4080 otherwise just turn up.
Monday 1st November @ 6.30pm, Rialto Tauranga, ANTONY STARR will be hosting a screening for Outrageous Fortune Fans, book by phone or at the cinema. $10 ticket
Wednesday 3rd November @ 6.30pm, Westgate Henderson, FREE screening for Piha residents (invitation by flyer only).
Thursday 4th November @ 6.30pm, Rialto Newmarket, Auckland Filmtalk event hosted by ANTONY STARR & SIMONE HORROCKS with Q & A.
Thursday 4th November @ 8.30pm, Bridgeway Cinema, Northcote, Auckland, screening hosted by ANTONY STARR & SIMONE HORROCKS with Q & A.
From Nov 4th AFTER THE WATERFALL will be screening at the following cinemas (session times from cinemas directly, updates on our AFTER THE WATERFALL facebook page):
Arthouse Cinema New Plymouth
Bridgeway Cinema Auckland
Central Cinema, Alexandra
Movieworld 3 Oamaru
NBS Theatre St James Westport
Rialto Cinema Tauranga
Rialto Cinemas Auckland
Rialto Cinemas Christchurch
Rialto Cinemas Dunedin
A Drama Queen Sings, Briefly
25 August 2011
Lisa Gornick’s seduced me again — When I saw this drawing, I thought There’s Me! Thin and Alone and Exposed and Worried about my Voice and my Song! There’s the outcome of This-Harshest-Winter-Ever at Our Place!
And then I laughed. Settle Down, Drama Queen! There are Freesias on the Kitchen Table! Put down your Tiny Violin! & Step Up!
Lisa’s drawing’s inspired me to round up this week’s news about New Zealand’s women directors. They’re pretty special.
First, Kathy Dudding. At the New Zealand Film Archive there’s a series of evenings commemorating her death a year ago and celebrating her life and work. Wednesday’s, which I missed, was called Bathe in The Light of the Pale Blue Moon. Still to come, this evening and tomorrow, screenings of Asylum Pieces, Kathy’s final film, which I found very moving.
Then, Gaylene Preston. Mary Wiles at Canterbury University, who published a lovely interview with Gaylene a while back, has organised a retrospective, originally for the Christchurch Art Gallery, closed because of the quakes. The retrospective will be at Te Papa Tongarewa Museum of New Zealand at Labour Weekend, 22–23 October. Some great films, a round table on the Sunday with Gaylene, Mary, Bruce Harding of the Ngai Tahu Research Centre at Canterbury, and Deborah Shepard — who’s written extensively on Gaylene, most recently in Her Life’s Work (that’s Gaylene at top left in the image below).
On and off over the years I’ve helped out with Gaylene’s archives and I’ve just finished a wee filmography and two paragraphs for the catalogue, connecting Gaylene to her place in the world among feminist filmmakers, thanks partly to Corinn Columpar and Sophie Mayer’s There She Goes Feminist Filmmaking and Beyond and its discussion of feminist auteures as ‘nodes’ or ‘agents’ who participate “in a poetics of exchange through cinematic labour of all kinds”.
And then there’s director Rosemary Riddell and The Insatiable Moon, which has just won a top prize at Moondance, the Atlantis Award for feature films made outside the United States. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if it got US distribution?
And wait, there’s more, courtesy of the New Zealand Writers Guild!
Writer/director Roseanne Liang’s film My Wedding and Other Secrets won the Audience Choice Award at the Asian American International Film Festival in New York last weekend and had this review. It was also shown to a sold out audience at the Feel Good Film Festival in LA. And Variety reviewed My Wedding at its international premiere at the Melbourne Film Festival!
Simone Horrocks (writer/director After the Waterfall) is in to China, where she has been invited to direct a feature length drama Unforgettable Love with a Chinese crew, and in the Chinese language. She believes this may be a first for New Zealand, and a unique opportunity for a non-Chinese director.
And, this weekend, writer/director Fiona Samuel’s Bliss, on TV One, Sunday at 8.30pm, a telefeature about Katherine Mansfield. Fiona’s most recent television drama was Piece of My Heart, a telefeature that won Sunday Theatre’s highest ratings of the year when it screened in 2009. The Listener describes Bliss as having “an excellent script by writer and director Fiona Samuel, who allows her Mansfield to be witty, passionate and outspoken.”
It’s 1908, and Katie Beauchamp is bored out of her mind in New Zealand. She’s desperate to leave home and become a writer. Against her parents’ wishes she sails for London at the age of 19, with a small allowance and big dreams. The next year of her life will change everything. In one year, Katie Beauchamp becomes Katherine Mansfield, and out of first love, disgrace and heartbreak, she forges the stories that will begin her career as a writer.
July 17 2012
Simone’s section in an update post.
After the Waterfall was the only woman-directed feature in the NZFF two years ago and received a group of nominations in the 2011 New Zealand Film Awards: Simone for Outstanding Feature Film Debut, for Best Editing in a Feature Film, for Images & Sound Best Sound in a Feature Film and for Best Lead Actor in a Feature Film (Antony Starr). Simone sent me this lovely email, and I hope to re-interview her soon.
Last year I went to China to direct Unforgettable Love, a Chinese film (in the Chinese language with Chinese cast and crew). I was approached by the producer following After the Waterfall’s premiere in Beijing, and I spent a year working with the writer and producer, including doing a production attachment in Beijing … long story. I have however discovered there is something other than development hell, that is post-production hell, as our film has not yet been completed … another long story but an amazing experience.
Anyway, my post-After the Waterfall directorial journey, and the great wasteland that is distribution, has forced much soul searching. It took ten years to get ATW made, and as we all know the world of theatrical distribution (for films like mine) is in a state of collapse, so its life in the cinema was brief and despite some magic moments, I found this a very dispiriting experience. However ATW is reaching audiences worldwide thanks to our friend the bittorrent, and it has given me great pleasure when those audience members have searched for us online to give us feedback. ATW can also be seen on Air New Zealand, and is available in local libraries all over New Zealand which I think is wonderful (if you are reading this and it’s not in your local library let me know via our facebook page and I’ll see what I can do). Aside from some very fine American and British television, the internet ‘portal’ is now where all the energy and ideas are, and I can see that making films in the way we do is currently unsustainable, and despite cyclical attempts to force the film making process into low or no-budget models, I think it is an inherently expensive medium, and that there is a creative threshold below which you cannot go.
In response to that, and what I perceive to be something of a dark ages for cinema in general, I am now back at university doing a four year degree in Speech and Language Therapy, in the hope that I won’t be cleaning hotel rooms in my sixties. I have been thinking about where to put my creative energy, and I’m not seeing many women in their fifties and beyond directing films (with a few notable exceptions of course) however I see many women’s faces on the backs of the jackets of the crime fiction books I read (which pretty much all I read apart from books on linguistics and communication disorders!) and this is also where I also I find tough, edgy stories that show the world from a woman’s point of view, populated with truthful, intelligent female characters, and so I have decided to put my writing energy in that direction.
I do still have several film projects which I have been developing, one has seed money from the NZFC, and is at first draft stage. It’s a contemporary real world fantasy film based on a novel my brother Dylan Horrocks is writing. I have written the screenplay based on a brief pitch he gave me, it’s the ‘sister version’ of the book, rather than an adaptation in the usual sense, as I have chosen not to read the book itself, and the film may end up being something completely different. Once his draft is finished we will swap versions and see where we have each taken it. I will continue to work on this project as a writer and producer.
So as you can see, new directions for me. I think directors have to be responsive and I am responding to the realities of my times and situation. Life is short and I need a new challenge, and one that offers the possibility of a living wage and more day to day satisfaction. I have been very lucky to have had the opportunities and experiences that a life in the film industry has given me, and my only regret is that I love working with actors, and there is so much good acting talent in New Zealand, I would love to be creating opportunities for them.
Interesting times for me as I am in the process of re-invention (for the third time in my life) … and have just finished a four year degree in Speech Language Therapy and am working as a teacher aide with teenagers who have autism. A challenging job which I love because it is all about giving others a voice — a great privilege.
I recently sent an email to a camera woman who shot one of my short films in the UK many years ago who has also just announced she is a student again and is retraining so she can teach. I congratulated her (as many have congratulated me) and told her I had no regrets about leaving film behind me — having looked and ahead and played the odds and decided I needed a new string to my bow.
I am grateful for the opportunities I have had but I also found myself reflecting on how it always hurt a little when others congratulated me without acknowledging what it might have cost me to give up something I loved and have fought so hard for.
I have just come home from work and I no regrets for sure — but pride myself on carrying a small but vengeful pool of rage for all those talented and brave women I have gradually seen giving up or not reaching the potential I dreamt for them (and myself) and felt they deserved.
The conversation I find myself having is that (all going well) life is long ... and that creative women need to live creative lives — and that there are many ways of doing this and using our gifts and talents ... and that there’s only so long one can keep banging one’s head against the glass ceiling ... and so I acknowledge all those who came before me and blazed the trail — and hand the baton to all those who are doing so now — and to all those women who keep the fires burning … shine on!