Out of the Mist

An Alternate History of New Zealand Cinema

Two decades on from Cinema of Unease, Tim Wong’s 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 20 July 2015.

If you’re unfamiliar with New Zealand Cinema, we recommend watching Sam Neill’s Cinema of Unease beforehand.

Director’s Statement

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angles: as an archeology of films and filmmakers underappreciated or ignored; as a study of images, both celebrated and outdated; as a form of advocacy for art on the margins; and as a challenge to the status quo around how national identity is represented in our movies.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 a writer, designer and filmmaker. He was founding editor of The Lumière Reader (2003–16), where he 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’s worked with the New Zealand International Film Festival and Auckland Arts Festival since 2016.


A list of every feature film, short and documentary cited in Out of the Mist, with annotations on availability, is hosted on Letterboxd. If you’re interested in watching any of these films, please do so by supporting our partners NZ On Screen and Aro Video.

The following selected works are currently free to view online:


Some recommended viewing on New Zealand film history:

  • Campbell Walker is a Friend of Mine (2010), Elric Kane’s introductory survey to the Aro Valley Digital film movement.
  • The Camera on the Shore (2009), Graeme Tuckett’s tribute to the late Barry Barclay.
  • Cinema of Unease (1995), Sam Neill’s personal journey through New Zealand film for the BFI’s Century of Cinema series.
  • Breaking Barriers (1993), a TV documentary on film pioneer John O’Shea, considered a “godfather to generations of Kiwi filmmakers.”
  • Cowboys of Culture (1990), Geoff Steven’s personal perspective on the New Zealand Cinema renaissance of the 1970s and 80s.
  • NZ Cinema, the Past Decade (1987), another perspective on the New Zealand Cinema renaissance via TVNZ’s flagship 1980s arts show, Kaleidoscope.


  • 18.12.2015 4:3’s Conor Bateman on the best digital-release documentaries of 2015.
  • 10.11.2015 Tim Wong discusses the online release of Out of the Mist” on Radio New Zealand’s “Upbeat”.
  • 05.11.2015 Out of the Mist on Public Address, with a director’s introduction.
  • 30.08.2015 The Best Worst Podcasters have a conversation about Out of the Mist (1’15’14”).
  • 30.07.2015 Out of the Mist on Radio New Zealand’s “At the Movies” with Simon Morris.
  • 30.07.2015 Conor Bateman at 4:3 reviews Out of the Mist.
  • 24.07.2015 Dan Slevin and Doug Dillaman discuss Out of the Mist on the Rancho Notorious podcast (43’00”).
  • 22.07.2015 David Larsen’s notes on Out of the Mist for Metro.
  • 21.07.2015 Steve Austin at the 13th Floor reviews Out of the Mist.
  • 20.07.2015 Tim Wong interviewed by Charlie Gates for Fairfax Media.
  • 16.07.2015 Via the New Zealand Herald online, Dominic Corry’s ten films festival fans need to see.
  • 15.07.2015 The Pantograph Punch picks for NZIFF 2015.
  • 14.07.2015 For A Fistful of Culture, Hugh Lilly’s five must-see films at NZIFF 2015.
  • 26.06.2015 On Radio New Zealand’s “Upbeat”, Bill Gosden talks this year’s NZIFF line-up, including Out of the Mist (18’30”).
  • 25.06.2015 On Radio New Zealand’s “At the Movies”, Bill Gosden previews NZIFF 2015, highlighting Out of the Mist (22’30”).
  • 23.06.2015 Out of the Mist highlighted by 4:3’s Conor Bateman.


  • Written and Directed by Tim Wong
    Produced by Melinda Jackson
  • Narrated by Eleanor Catton
  • Director of Photography: Daniel Rose
    Additional stills: Andy Palmer
  • Editor: Peter O’Donoghue
  • Music composed and performed by Svenda Ström
    Produced, engineered and performed by Jason Erskine
  • Narration and sound mix by Big Pop Studios
  • Script advisors: Alexander Bisley, Doug Dillaman, Brannavan Gnanalingam
  • Legal: Steven Price, Mick Sinclair
    Publicist: Rebecca McMillan
    Series Producer: Tim Wong
  • Supported by: Aro Video, NZ On Screen
  • Film clips supplied by: Images & Sound, Archives New Zealand Te Rua Mahara o te Kāwanatanga, Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision
    Andrew Armitage at Aro Video; Kim Baker and Ian Pryor at NZ On Screen; Eve Chessmur and Glen Cleaver at Big Pop Studios; Jane Anderson at Images & Sound; Kate Larkindale at the New Zealand Film Commission; Emma Richardson and Jamie Lean at Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision.
    Tae Allison, Russell Campbell, Anna Dean, Claire Duncan, Jeff Hurrell, Hugh Macdonald, Luke McPake, Thomasin Sleigh, Tony Williams, Alex Mitcalfe Wilson; Wellington International Airport; Brenda Leeuwenberg at NZ On Air; Bill Gosden at the New Zealand International Film Festival; and all the artists and filmmakers without whom this production would not have been possible.
    20 July 2015 (World Premiere)
    5 November 2015 (Online Premiere)
  • The Lumière Reader presents
    in association with NZ On Air
    “Out of the Mist: An Alternate History of New Zealand Cinema”
  • © Lumière Industries 2015. All Rights Reserved.