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as an archeology of films and filmmakers underappreciated or ignored; as a study of images, both celebrated and outdated; as a form of advocacy for art on the margins; and as a challenge to the status quo around how national identity is represented in our movies.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