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A documentary about a town with an underwater history

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: 11th August, 2011

Bridge under the Water

A documentary about a town with an underwater history

An introduction by Gemma Duncan – Producer/Director

The proverbial water is not under the bridge in this town. ‘Bridge under the Water’ is a documentary about Cromwell, a small town in central Otago where the residents were forced to negotiate the rising waters behind Clyde Dam, the last of Muldoon’s ‘Think Big Projects’ of the 1980s.

The film follows those most affected by the dam on a journey of remembrance of their past. Most remember it fondly, some not so much. The question this film begs is, ‘how do you remember the past when parts of it are submerged under water’?

Not too many small towns can claim they are the “newest, oldest town” in the country. Often tourists and visitors to Cromwell in central Otago encounter historic stories of the quintessential gold-mining era of New Zealand that is akin to the old western films that have been beaten to death in American films for decades. The difference here though is that there are people still living in Cromwell that remember when most of their gold-mining town was still above water.

The Clyde Dam was the last of the ‘Think Big’ projects the New Zealand Government under the late Prime Minister, Robert Muldoon facilitated in the 1980s. Its location deemed that the Cromwell Gorge up-river was to be flooded and the main street of Cromwell and Lowburn along with it. Many were relocated as a result and controversy was rife, with many families litigating the buy-out process. What is left of their homes and properties now lie under the waters of Lake Dunstan.

At the centre of this underwater history, and at the centre of this documentary, is the old Cromwell Bridge, a big steel structure that remains as a resonant metaphor for memory. When asked about the bridge, like a flick of a light switch the local residents are reminded of what they have lost and gained, and recall for the camera a literal archive of intimate stories so easily missed by a simple visit to the area.

This documentary features very personal themes of history, loss, gain, progression, expectations, controversy and acceptance - all good things to include in a documentary film that celebrates a plucky community that raced against the rising waters to save what they could of their main street, stone by stone, out of harm’s way. The end result? A tourist hub proudly called ‘The Cromwell Old Town Precinct’.

The producer/director of the project, Gemma Duncan, exhibited large-format images of Cromwell’s historic ruins during her Bachelor of Fine Arts studies at Massey University. Duncan is also the 2009 recipient of the V48 Hours/Unitec ‘Aspiring Filmmaker Award’. “I always wanted to follow up with the photography work I had already done on Cromwell, and I believe documentary is the perfect medium to offer these personal stories to an audience,” says Duncan.

“With the talented crew that is working with me, my aim is for this documentary to feature in a film festival both here in New Zealand and overseas.”


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