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A Sense Of Place & Freakout! Reviews

A Sense Of Place – curator: Deborah Lawler-Dormer and Courtesy of the Moving Image Centre, Auckland. Film Centre, Wellington, until 9 April 2000.

FreakOut! – Surrealism and Psychedelia from the 1970s. TV Lounge, Film Centre, Wellington, until 9 April 2000.

Review by Lissa Mitchell

New Zealand short films and videos feature as part of two current exhibitions at the Film Centre. A Sense of Place includes 11 contemporary works in a variety of styles, stories and formats. The range of films on show represents numerous perspectives on history, the present, culture and desire in the Pacific.

Virginia King's Styx (Sticks), is a mediative piece mourning the destruction of New Zealand's Kauri forests. It combines contemporary footage with vintage film and photographic images and features poetry by Hone Tuwhare. King uses the medium to encourage her audience to grieve the process of destruction that built this nation. In this way King's film strongly conveys the idea that the past is resonant as the skeleton of the present.

Mary Jane O'Reilly's film Ki Te La, shows the way that both traditional and European music, art and dance combine in a Tokelauan family based in West Auckland. Primarily this is a dance film, with a great soundtrack, that celebrates cross-cultural interests and lifestyles.

Behind Me Is Black is a film finished by Kirsty Cameron (Seductor Productions) and Cushla Dillion from footage shot between 1975 and 1980 by Paul Johns in Christchurch. The program claims that the film evokes 'a mood of nostalgia and memory'. But there is more going on here. Gender is a complex and mysterious category as character and viewer (and presumably cameraman, Johns) scrutinise the faces and bodies captured by the camera. As the title suggests, the past, mixed with identity, is a void complicated by the disarming reality of the photographic image, not merely packaged as nostalgia by it.

Armagan Ballantyne's Little Echo Lost, is one of those films that really makes me wonder – at funding decisions that get the go-ahead due to the proposed crew, and the epidemic lack of strong story scripting versus an overabundance of technical competence in New Zealand. Certainly Ballantyne will make a good director of TV commercials – you expect a Toyota off-roader to appear here, the anti-climax is that it doesn't.

In the TV Lounge, FreakOut! presents six New Zealand works with an interest in surrealism and/or psychedelia so rarely seen (you might as well say never) in any exhibition or cinema context.

The gem of this collection is the first and shortest, Cockroach Avenue – Red Mole: Wintergarden. Shot by Leon Narbey in 1978, with effects that are reminiscent of films by pioneer Frenchman, George Melies. After experimenting with film as a visual art medium, Narbey went on to direct Illustrious Energy (1988). While being shot on black and white film, the style of Cockroach Avenue conveys visual warmth. Despite its complexity, the story becomes an acceptable illusive element – a small tease amongst vast visual pleasure.

In David Blyth's Circadian Rhythms, Ross Harris's confrontational soundtrack makes the film a more gruelling watch. However, this is a convincing result of one of our most rigorous efforts at producing Surrealist films. Blyth and Richard Von Sturmer were inspired by Buñuel's Un Chien Andalou. Generally Circadian Rhythms works, unlike our feature films, the more contrite scenes are not allowed to kill the tone of the film as a whole – a good example is the actor's encounter with the dire teddy bear circle.

Narbey's and Blyth's films represent the surrealist aspects of the program. As with practitioners elsewhere these works are produced on basic filmmaking equipment – in a sense Surrealism is the ideal genre of pioneer film production technology.

Psychedelia, however, was the genre of the new television production technology of the 1970s. The most obvious example here is Images, produced by John Henry while employed at Vidcom in Auckland. At the production house, Henry had access to 'a state of the art analogue studio'. The results also provided a vehicle for an anonymous jazz-fusion soundtrack, combined with the visual effects of the moment, Images is a showcase of 1970s taste.

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