Sunday, October 08, 2006

End of term rant

Well in my postings I seem to ramble rather a lot about myself, but since this blog is actually a class exercise, I thought it was about time that I talked a bit about what has been going on in class recently.

Richard Thomas's Monday classes are always invaluable, and we have had some fantastic speakers come along, including one of my all time favourites, Graham Sidney, Richard is a great teacher, although initially I think I was slightly in awe of him when he told us he had once taught Jane Campion (a person idol…). In our last class we had an intensive session with him on the dos and don'ts of scriptwriting. Now we are getting toward the time when we are going to start writing the scripts for our own films, and although it all seems a bit scary, sessions like this are really helpful in guiding us in the correct way to write scripts. We got given a homework exercise that involves writing the narration to some edited footage on the Yukon dog racing challenge. It seems like quite a fun exercise, and I am looking forward to recording what I have written with real narrator. Next week we get to examine everyone's efforts in class, so I think that is a bit of encouragement for everyone to put in a lot of effort into their narration.

We have been learning heaps in Lloyds Tuesday class, looking at each other's blogs and studying the craft of creative writing. The personal essay that we wrote for part of this class's assessment was a challenging yet rewarding exercise. I wrote about the right that Pakeha have to identify with the New Zealand landscape (it's on my last posting it you want to have a read), and although I felt like I was treading the boundaries of political correctness, I enjoyed voicing my opinions. I always enjoy Lloyd's screenings on Wednesdays as well, and we have been looking at some fascinating documentaries. One of my favourites, chosen by Mark, was Natural History of the Chicken. I also like the fact that the class alway has a lot of fun in Lloyd's classes. I'm not sure what Lloyd thought of our film idea about the one legged Maori woman who was an eco warrior saving the dolphins in Napier, but we sure had fun coming up with the story!

Paul's Thursday classes are always great fun and have taught me loads. After four years doing a film degree without any practical component, I love being able to actually 'get in there' and play with the cameras, lights and everything else. Last Thursday we went out to the aero club to learn about aerial photography. We actually got to hop in the helicopters and play around, although it would have been nice if we had actually got to leave the ground! Paul was really helpful in sharing all that he has learned from years of aerial photography, and he looked great in a harness too! This week we headed out to the Portobello Aquarium (see below) to learn about pole cams and how to set up tanks for filming. It was a beautiful day and we all had loads of fun playing with pole cams and gathering various critters for our tanks.

On Friday we have class with Stephen Downs who teaches us some of the more technical details relating to filmmaking. For the last two weeks we have be learning some of the basics of final cut pro, and its all pretty helpful stuff to a technical incompetent such as myself. The music video exercise that we did was great fun, even though I started to get a bit of a reputation for listening to Britney Spears and hanging out at upstairs Cook (oh by the way I wanted to put my vid on the blog but my star actress was not so keen – I don't think she wants her drunken behaviour on the net!)

But anyway, as the semester coming to a close I can truly say that I am finding the course valuable and enjoyable. The people involved (both my lecturers and my classmates) have been great and we have had some really fun times together both in and out of class. This may be our final week of class but this doesn't mean that the work is stopping. Bring on the summer I say –lets get started making our films!

Thursday, October 05, 2006

The Landscape of Identity

This is an article I wrote for my 403 class. Have a read and tell me what you think...

I was far from home and lost in the cobbled backstreets of Paris. The day was drawing to a close and I searched the shadowy pools cast by the streetlamps for a familiar landmark. When I finally struggled out onto the main road I was unexpectedly confronted with a huge billboard advertising New Zealand. Amidst the well-dressed bustle of homebound Parisians I stood transfixed. Rolling green hills merged into jutting snowy peaks and scarlet pohutukawa bloomed at the edge of expansive golden beaches. Without any warning I was hit with a wave of homesickness. A yearning for my homeland on the other side of the world. It was so sudden, so unexpected. After all those years of dreaming about my big O.E I was finally in Paris and all I wanted to do was yell to the passers by "Look isn't it beautiful. That’s where I come from, that’s New Zealand". For me, those images, that unique and contrasting landscape, represented so much of what it meant to be a Kiwi. They aroused in me a sense of belonging. A sense of identity.

This affiliation that I feel with New Zealand's natural landscape is, I believe, shared by New Zealanders everywhere. The jutting pinnacle of Mount Cook or the wide sweep of ninety-mile beach can awaken a sense of patriotism in the most unpatriotic of hearts. This connection to our environment links New Zealanders together, it reminds us how unique and unspoilt our small country really is. Yet this bond with our landscape can also divide the citizens of Aotearoa/ New Zealand. Our country positions Maori as the only group in New Zealand who have the right to gain a sense of identity from their relationship with the landscape. They are the Tangata whenua, the people of the land. In comparison Pakeha are perceived as squatters, colonial conquerors with no real claim on the landscape. I disagree with this whole-heartedly. Of course Maori have a deep and spiritual bond with the land, however I too have a profound connection to the New Zealand landscape. A connection that I believe deserves to be acknowledged.

I may be a Pakeha New Zealander, but my parents, taken by the beauty of the native Rata flower blooming scarlet in the Christmas, gave me the Maori name of Rata. This name conveyed an affinity they had for their environment, an affinity which they wished to past on to me, a fifth generation New Zealand. This close relationship with the natural environment is something I continue to share today. The tangled rainforest of South Westland and the snow-capped Southern Alps, these are my turangawaewa (my place of standing), I have nothing else. If I cannot identify with these places as my home, my place of standing, what can I identify with? These special places hold important memories for me and I have a right to identify with them.

Of course I am not questioning the bond that Maori have with the land. For Maori, a connection to the land has always been an integral aspect of culture and identity. They are Tangata whenua and the land is an integral part of their whakapapa to be taken care of for later generations. This spiritual relationship comes from Maori creation mythology and the primal parents - Rangi the sky father, and Papa-tua-nuku the earth mother. In Maori myth, Rangi and Papa founded the present physical form of the world, and while Rangi soon retreated to become the sky, Papa remained to become the earth. To this day she continues to play an important role nurturing and protecting her children, and likewise, her children, the modern day Maori, are expected to take care of her as kaitiakitanga (guardians of the land).

But let us not forget, for Pakeha too there has been a relationship with the land from the very beginning. In comparison to Maori, this relationship was often seen as more of a battle than a guardianship; nevertheless a strong relationship with the land has always been an integral aspect in developing a sense of Pakeha identity. According to prominent New Zealand historian Keith Sinclair, during the late 19th century the ‘Pioneer Myth’, which linked man and his landscape, became a dominant ideology in the emerging nation of New Zealand. In a similar manner to the American frontier myth, this pioneer myth was organised around the dualism of Man and Nature. The wild untamed landscape was positioned as the enemy, and brave pioneers battled with it to become the heroic ‘founding fathers’ of New Zealand. As time progressed, however, the land was not just seen as the enemy to these early generations, it became both a friend and a saviour. Once the land was tamed it represented a form of capitalist wealth, which would allow the settlers to live far better than they could of in Britain. It become a home for them to raise their families and provided security for the next generation. If you read the work of early New Zealander writers, such as David McCloud, you begin to see the deep appreciation these early generations of Pakeha had for their land. It provided for them by bringing wealth and pleasure, but it could also pose a threat if the awesome power of the landscape was not respected. In this way a relationship with the land played a crucial role in defining the emerging sense of identity and culture for Pakeha.

As Michael King said in his influential book, 'Being Pakeha', today after several generations of family occupation in New Zealand, Pakeha feel a deeply entrenched sense of belonging and identity that comes from a strong relationship with the natural world. Today Pakeha all over New Zealand have a deep attachment to certain landscapes; whether it be the old family farm, the mountains they skied in the winter, or the golden beaches of their childhood. These landscapes are special to them and are inevitably tied to a sense of memory, identity and culture. And yet this right that Pakeha have to identify with these landscapes is not often acknowledged. Indeed when raised it can lead to cries of cultural insensitivity. Take for example the well-publicized case of the South Island High Country farmers. They believed that after living in the same area for generations their connection to the land should be officially acknowledged, but it is not so. Maori, as the originally inhabitants of this county, automatically have a greater right to the land. I am not advocating that Maori land rights claims should be tossed aside. Land was wrongfully taken from them and they should be compensated. But perhaps there also needs to be more formal recognition of the bond that Pakeha have with the landscape. Maybe we should allow for the possibility of Pakeha stewardship over certain areas of land. Acknowledge that for Pakeha too the land has become a taonga.

Michael King claimed that Pakeha have become a second indigenous culture in New Zealand, and I agree completely. With this title comes certain rights and responsibilities. We have right to identify the landscape and have a bond that should be recognised officially. Yet we also have a responsibility to look after this land. Ours is landscape of extremes, a landscape diverse and totally unique. Yet nothing guarantees it will stay this way, and today Pakeha as well as Maori have an important role to play as kaitiakitanga. For the identification that Māori and Pakeha feel for the landscape should not be a contentious issue that divides the citizens of New Zealand. It should bring Maori and Pakeha together, reinforcing the eternal bond that the two cultures have, creating a sense of pride and national identity as we rejoice in the beauty of our land.

All the politics are, however, far from mind when I return to my home in the Southern Alps after months of travelling the world. Stepping outside my house the crisp air makes me gasp as it enters my lungs. As I gaze at the jutting mountains with their glittering peaks, far more impressive than any billboard I've ever seen, I feel a sense of place, of belonging. I am a New Zealander and this is my land.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Fantastic Falafel

I have been a vegetarian pretty much my whole life, and almost every day I get interrogated by various people about the principles behind my decision not to eat meat. I guess my decision is partly informed by my distaste for inhumane ways of killing animals, but, more specifically, I just can't stand the taste of meat. Whether it be red meat, white meat, fish or any other kind of seafood, the 'animally' taste arouses in me a sense of the utmost revulsion. I am however very content with my decision not to eat meat. Contrary to the opinion of many of my friends, I don't feel hard done by that I can't sit down and enjoy a 'nice juicy steak'. I love cooking and enjoy nothing better that creating a tasty vegetarian feast for my friends and family (although I do obviously prefer to cook when I am staying with my parents because my flat never has any of the ingredients for the gourmet meals I love)

But regardless of what I say, people never seem to believe me when I say that vegetarians are not hard done by. I mean sometimes it is a bit of a challenge to find something when I am eating out, but when I cook at home I always eat well. Being a vegetarian really makes me think hard about what I'm putting in my body, which, if anything, means I eat better than I would if I ate meat.

My flatties have been pretty receptive to trying the concoction of vegetarian dishes that I have made up over the years. But out of all the dishes I've cooked, I think Falafel has proved to be the most popular.Falafel is a Middle Eastern chickpea patty and a personal favorite of mine. I spent years trying to make Falafel myself, generally with pretty disastrous consequences. Finally I accepted defeat and realized that you can actually buy really great pre-made Falafel at the supermarket. There are a number of different types but my favorite brand is Sahara. I don't mean to sound like a walking advert for a particular brand of Falafel (available from most supermarkets for around $4.99…), but Falafel really is great and something I reckon everyone should try. Its cheap nutritious and readily available. And if you can't be bothered cooking it yourself, you can buy it at almost all Middle Eastern, Greek and Turkish restaurants and take-aways.

And so my parting words to you today are "remember that it's not all about the meat". Bear this in mind that next time you stagger home at four in the morning and stop for a feed at the kebab shop. Go on, I dare you, next time choose Falafel.

Muzza and his Molluscs

Well Bojun and I did our pitch last Tuesday and I think it went pretty well. We set aside our own initial ideas and pitched a totally new story – a film about a fisherman, Murray Black, and his journey to protect the oyster habitat which has sustained his family for generations. Let me outline some of the basics of the story…
New Zealand's Bryozoan communities and the Oyster colonies they support are on the brink of collapse. No one seems to care. That is apart from one lone fisherman, Murray Black. This is the story of Murray's twenty-year struggle to protect the Bluff oyster habitat from being destroyed by the 15 million dollar oyster fishing industry.
After realizing that his dredge netting was destroying the Bryozoan habitat which supported the oyster colonies and preventing the oysters from regenerating, Murray hung up his nets and committed himself to fighting to protect the oysters.
He is, however, running out of time. Murray believes that oyster fishing should of stopped three years ago and maintains that this is the last chance to save them from being wiped out in the bluff and Foveaux strait region.
This year oyster quotas are being reviewed and the fate of the oysters and their habitat are depending on the outcome of this review. Will Murray be able to save the oysters and their habitat before it is too late?

What do you think, a good story? Would you go and watch the film?

A picture of some bluff oysters - won't they make they attractive victims for our film..

Andrew's cry for help

I have a rather sad and lonely flatmate by the name of Andrew Neal who has asked me to write blurb on my blog about what a fantastic guy he is. Andrew, a.k.a Anal (get it, A.Neal, kind of gross I know but that’s what everyone apart from his mum calls him), has been single and dateless for many a month and has lately been complaining about his lack of female company. Andrew lacks some of the finer aspects of gentlemanly conduct which likely account for his misfortune with the opposite sex. He refers to all females as "hey lady" and gets ridiculously intoxicated every time he goes out.

But aside from all of this he is actually a very nice guy, and searching desperately for a lady to spend his final months in Dunedin with. He describes himself as a charming, witty and rather spunky young man, and maintains that he would treat any woman who chooses to spend time with him with the utmost dignity and respect.

If anyone would be interested in getting to know Andrew please leave your details and I will pass them on to him.

At least I tried….

Sunday, September 24, 2006

More music video ravings

And now back to the eternal saga that is my music video – well my idea has changed, once again. Dubwise didn't work out so I turned away from New Zealand music to embrace my tacky roots. Yes that’s right, pure tack - the new song I am doing is by Britney Spears and it is surely as nasty as they come.

I went out and did the filming for it in the weekend with the aid of my 18 year old sister and three of her friends. My aim was to create a music video based around a first year university student's night on the town, showing them in their full drunken and embarrassing glory. The students of Dunedin certainly obliged and man was it funny! I filmed primarily in the Captain Cook Tavern (pictured below) and I saw some very strange things indeed. I instantly became a celebrity when they saw me in the bar with the camera and they all seemed to want to either dance for the camera or flash it. I think I will certainly have to censor quite a lot of my footage.

Anyway I'm just up to the editing process at the moment and to be honest I'm finding it a bit of a process. It's really good to see all of my footage come together into some kind of cohesive narrative but it just takes so long. I am only editing on imovie so it's not hard, but it does take quite a bit of time fiddling around to get the cuts on the correct beat of song . I'm pretty glad that I chose a song that I didn't like because I have played it so many times now that I am really starting to hate it. Oh well, I guess it doesn't matter. It not like I listen to Britney in my spare time or anything!

The dream team

Well partners have finally been sorted for our final film project and I am working with…drum roll please… Bojan!!

I think we will work well together although though we do both have very different areas of interest – She is a hard out zoologist while I am an arty-farty anthropologist. Hopefully this will mean that we balance each other out and perhaps even teach each other something at the same time. Bojan has been working very hard to convince me that the whole science thing is not as scary as I seem to think. This is probably a very good thing since I am undertaking a course on natural history filmmaking and it's about time I realised that I am no longer just a pretentious arts student!

We haven't decided what film project we will do yet – we both have good ideas, and it is just a matter of figuring out which will make the best film. We do, however, have to pitch our final film idea on Tuesday so time is definitely of the essence. I will let you know what film we choose as soon as we work it out ourselves!

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

A slightly embarrassing obsession

I just thought I would take a few moments to do a little rave about one of my all time passions – New Zealand television

Anyone who knows me even slightly can attest to my love of New Zealand television. I have always been such a film snob but, funnily enough, when it comes to television it can be as crappy as you like but if it's from New Zealand I'm bound to love it. Some of my past obsessions include "Being Eve" (Cancelled), "Jackson's Wharf" (Cancelled) and "The Strip" (Cancelled). Come on someone else must have loved them apart from me!!

To the chagrin of my flatmates, every seven o'clock weeknight you find me glued to the television watching the great kiwi soap that is Shortland Street. Now this is one that hasn't been cancelled and has managed to maintain its primetime spot on channel two for over 15 years (even if the audience is primarily 12 year old girls!).

But what I really wanted to do today is sing the praises of my latest favourite show, "Outrageous Fortune". Outrageous Fortune is screened on channel three at 9.30 on Tuesday nights and has just begun its second season. It is truly fantastic show based around a 'white trash' family called the West's, who live in west Auckland. Their family business is thieving and they are all fantastic at it from the lock-picking grandfather (who is, incidentally, the old man on the speights adds), to the fifteen-year-old daughter who started her own video piracy business. The father spends most of his time in jail while the mother is having an affair with the policeman that put him there, and the older sons (both played by the same person) are extremely hot (no that’s not the only reason I like it…). It’s a drama, but it plays on so many crazy New Zealand stereotypes that it is also very funny.

Anyway, even for you who don't want NZ television just for the sake of it like I do you are bound to love Outrageous Fortune. And this time it's not just me - the rest of New Zealand seems to love it too. At the 2005 Qantas Television Awards it won the top award for Best Drama as well as Best Actress and Best Actor.

Check the show out next week – I highly recommend it

Outrageous Fortune Cast, Check out the hottie

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Pet power

Pets have always been an integral part of my life and have brought great pleasure to me as I was growing up. I had pets from an early age, starting at the age of two when I was adopted 'Garfield', an orange kitten from the S.P.C.A. As I got older the pets I adopted become more diverse and included animals as varied as fish, dogs, rabbits, pigs, deer, horses and lambs. I even got to care for the odd sick penguin! I loved all my animals greatly and have always felt sorry for children that grew up without the devoted company of a pet.

What has got be thinking about all of this is the fact that my family dog died in the weekend. Skip or 'Skippy' as she was affectionately called, was an eleven-year-old border collie. Like most border collies she was a very intelligent and astute dog. Devoted to pleasing us, she was always ecstatic to see me when I came to up from Dunedin to visit the family- the tail would go thump thump thump on the ground and she would whimper and jump up in excitement. Truly nothing makes you feel loved like your dog does.

When my mother rung to tell me that Skip had died having puppies I was surprised by my emotional response. You become so attached to your pets, they really become part of the family and it can be pretty devastating when they pass away. Looking back, I guess I can see that she lived a pretty good life. She had some great times and so did we – Skip, like most pets, brought joy to the lives of me and my family. Her death made me reflect upon the fact that when I have children of my own I am going to ensure that pets are a large part of their lives. Pets teach children (an adults for that matter) responsibility, loyalty, and most importantly compassion.

I won't pretend to believe that Skip has gone to any kind of doggy heaven- I mean really come on! But what her death has made me realise is that Skip, just like pets all over the world, had the ability enrich people's lives.
She will be missed.

And in other news…

My music video idea I discussed the other week has totally gone to the dogs. I thought I had permission to film shapeshifter last weekend only to discover at the last minute that band management wasn't going to let me. I tried my hardest to change their minds, even ringing up the manager in Australia and offering her the use of my 'exclusive' high def footage of the Dunedin gig, but she was not swayed. It seems that they have three professional film crews filming the group in Auckland so they didn't want my amateur footage!

So anyway after being snubbed by management I had the intention of giving Shapeshifter the cold shoulder and staying away from their concert, but I just couldn't do it! I payed thirty dollars for a ticket and partied hard all night – and I do have to say that I did have an amazing night, even if I was pretty irritated that I couldn't film.

I am, however, still really keen on the idea of including live concert footage in by music video, although I have been having a bit of trouble implementing this idea. As I noted in my earlier post it can be a bit of a challenge to find groups to film in Dunedin, unless of course you want to stay close to home and film a local band. I have actually just discovered that Dubwise, a Christchurch dub/reggae group are coming to play in Bath Street on Friday. I have been a huge fun of the group since I saw them play in Queenstown at New Years a couple of years ago. I love Bath Street too, it is a great venue and a real institution in Dunedin so I would love to include it in my music video. I am in the process of seeking permission to film this weekend so hopefully it will be given the go ahead tomorrow. Our music video is due in a couple of weeks so I don't have much time left!

Shapeshifter in concert: pity I was partying not filming!

Monday, September 11, 2006

Time for a catch up

Well it's been a while since my last posting, and there has been all kinds of scintillating stuff going on in my life since then (ok well I guess that may be a slight exaggeration).
Let me get you up to speed…
So I pitched my film idea last week and it went ok – well at least I think it went ok. I got some fair comments from my lecturers that I need to focus my topic much more because it's still pretty general. I totally agree, my film idea is still in the early stages and I need to do a lot more research to find a really specific story. In the wise words of my lecturer Richard Thomas, "less is more", and I think that this is something I need to keep reminding myself. But its hard you know -I think I get a little bit carried away with the 'bigger issues' and forget that it's the little things that make good stories.

But anyway I may be getting ahead of myself - I don't even know whether anyone will want to work with me to make this film. Tomorrows the day we have to choose partners and decide what films we are going to make and some of us have nicknamed the whole process "survivor filmmaker". Well there are certainly a number of similarities between the two processes: not all our film ideas will survive as we pick six out of the twelve ideas that got pitched last week, and in fact once the partnership is formed they may even come up with a totally new idea. I think everyone in class is a bit nervous to discover whose film ideas will "outwit, outplay and outlast" everyone else's.

To be honest I don't think I'll be overly devastated if the person I end up working with doesn't want to do my film idea about Haast. This idea may be my baby, but the whole thing is going to be a collaborative project so it will inevitably involve a bit of give and take. As we have been told numerous times by guest speakers in the industry, "You have to be prepared to kill your darlings", and I totally agree. Wow I really think this course is teaching me to be mature, I don't know whether I would have been half so compliant this time last year!