“Scenes from the Aro Valley, Paramount, April 20-23 2006″-
These are the original liner notes for the 2006 “mini retrospective of the Aro Valley DV film movement 1999-2006″ curated and written by myself… The first time we the filmmakers referred to the existence of the group that could be seen as including our work. I’m putting it up as a time capsule in a way – there are many ironies and misapprehensions involved, but it has a historical meaning I’d like to have noted, preserved.
Scenes from the Aro Valley
A Mini retrospective of the Aro Valley DV film movement 1999-2006
2000, Directed by Colin Hodson
“Shifter’s life is a mess. His flatmates play “horrible un-music” and drink all the milk. He can’t talk to his ex without arguing. He can’t get his answerphone messages. His new flat is a tip, and he’s having nightmares about killer rabbits – but it gets worse…”
- Gordon Productions original description.
“As the events accrue, and our eponymous, engaging and elusive lead lives several days in his ordinary/ extraordinary life, one’s initial listlessness gives way to a perverse fascination – as the slightest event, be it an odd dream or the spilling of a cup of coffee, takes on epic proportions. What emerges is an endless loop of unlocatable anxiety, as Shifter’s interactions with his ex-girlfriend, new neighbour and a girl he tried to picks up in a bar, all fail to explain his ontological discomfort; his quest, in this way, becomes universal. A self-contained slice of in medias res existence, Shifter captures the spaces in between with unpolished exactitude.
Wholly improvised over several days and produced for a grand total of $110.00, Shifter is the closest that film gets to real life, and shows that the alienated cinema of the Pacific Rim stretches as far south as New Zealand.”
- (Mark Peranson) Vancouver Film Festival 2002
Shifter was a strange film to make. It was really cheap and weirdly ad hoc and its one of my favourites of the Aro Valley films. I shot it, except for the scenes I’m in, and Diane McAllen recorded the sound, except for the scenes she’s in. She’s in a lot of scenes – Whitey, the character she plays was supposed to by played by Richard Whyte who couldn’t make it – so for those scenes I was walking around the house holding the camera in one hand and the boom in the other.
After his disturbingly convincing turns at emotional evasion in this and Uncomfortable Comfortable before, Colin was starting to get people not really wanting to talk to him so much any more. We got this a lot with these films – some of these performances were sufficiently good that people didn’t really want to believe that a bunch of unauthorised filmmakers with no money could have acheived them, so they tended to assume the actors were just playing themselves. (CW)
2005, Andy Chappell
A very different version on a similar theme to Shifter from Andy Chappell, and a clear inheritor of some similar perspectives to the “Aro Valley Movement”. Always very strongly visually motivated, Andy is finishing his second short slowly now, a sci-fi film featuring Rob Jerram from Little Bits of Light, with a shaved head for the role. (CW)
2003, Elric Kane and Alexander Greenhough
“Life in a Mt Victoria flat is observed with sly wit by Elric Kane and Alexander Greenhough in their second no-budget digital feature” – Bill Gosden, NZ Film Festival.
“If for nothing else, this film is recommended purely for being made by two former Victoria University film students, who are showing the rest of us wannabe filmmakers how to make compelling and interesting films without any money.
There is also the fact that it is set in Wellington, and unlike some other films that use cities as a form of name-dropping, the city becomes an integral part in the alienation and darkness of the film. For example who’d have thought the Overbridge could be made into a sinister and cold place?
The film can also be recommended because it’s set in a Mt Victoria flat with characters and situations that most students and most other people can relate to.
However, it is also recommended simply because it is a really good film.”
-Branavan Gnanalingam, Salient
I’d helped out (at times negligibly) with Alex and Elric’s first feature, I Think I’m Going, and soon after it was finished, they launched straight into Murmurs. Apparently they were wanting to sneakily make another film to surprise us all with. These boys often have real issues with screening their work, fine though it is, and I’m still kinda surprised that they were both keen on screening it here. Murmurs is thematically very close to Shifter, and in filmmaking style and personal philosophy a complete opposite. Please note that neither of these films are relationship movies – something else the Aro Valley filmmakers have always been accused of making.
Look out for a steely cameo by George Rose, who’s really the original independent no-budget Aro Valley fimmaker since the 70s when his radical first film Artman first raised socio-political hackles that none of the current generation have had the balls to try and interface. Also note the no-budget-est spin on that “de Niro in Raging Bull ridiculous weight gain” thing, in the otherwise svelte Kristin Smith’s pretty stellar inhabiting of the decidedly un-svelte Amy. (CW)
2001-2004 directed by Richard Whyte
Featuring 5 films: BROOKLYN, Lightbulb, EARth, Lunar, Storm
Five experimental shorts in about 7 minutes by Richard Whyte, among other things a ghost in the margins of almost all the Aro Valley films, and possibly the least known and most active filmmaker involved with the movement. Still lives in the Valley too, unlike the rest of us; next door to the flat Shifter moves into. (CW)
Little Bits of Light
2005, Campbell Walker
“Intimate and acutely observant filmmaking with real emotional power, Campbell Walker’s digital feature bears witness to a young couple’s struggle to survive one partner’s crushing bout of depression. Alex and Helen are taking a winter break in a rambling old house in the Taranaki countryside… Nia Robin elucidates Helen’s anguish and her arresting off-kilter liveliness with unstinting clarity. Happiness is as sharply evoked in the film as the opposite and Alex and Helen charm each other – and us – with some of the knowing playfulness of a French new wave couple.
In this, as in her distress, Robin has her match in Rob Jerram, who plays Alex without a hint of self-serving nobility. Screen acting of such a high order might almost be considered the purpose of Walker’s filmmaking. It’s as if we are watching the private struggle of two people, played out in real time, but sharpened into dramatic focus and suffused with the filmmaker’s love, wonder and dismay”
-Bill Gosden, NZ Film Festival
Little Bits of Light is the most expensive of the Aro Valley films to date, and was filmed in the Taranaki, which’s not really in the Aro Valley.
It’s based roughly on my relationship with with co-writer Grace C. Russell and the improvised into new life with the actors. A glib but sadly rather accurate description of how this film’s affected Grace’s and my life would be to say that, to a large extent making the film helped cure her depression… and gave it to me instead.
We spent an alarmingly intense month in the country, drinking lots and getting beaten around by the subject matter. All the rest of the cast and crew tend to look at me as if I’m crazy when I say I had a great time, but making the film has semi-ruined the idea of going back to making films with no money at all. In the kind of low budget but determined film-making that we’re playing at at this festival, money doesn’t buy you glossy costumes or distracting effects. It buys you time to get things right, time to work with the crew and the actors, time to remove distractions, time to do things again when they’re not right. Having this time is very addictive after you’ve learnt the proper appreciation for what it means; which is learnt by doing it when you don’t have time or money.
All four of the feature film directors represented here are moving into the slightly more arrested, less independent stage of finding that the projects they want to make need more time, and wondering where the hell they can find the money to buy the time with. So this maybe means the “Aro Valley DV movement” is finished. But then again with newer film makers like Andy Chappell moving inexorably towards long-form work, maybe it just means it’ll be taken over by different people. (CW)
2002, Diane McAllen
A short animated doco, about what happens when your partner leaves you for someone else. Diane, as among other things the producer/ co-producer of Uncomfortable Comfortable, Shifter, Off and Why Can’t I Stop This Uncontrollable Dancing and one third of the Gordon Productions collective that made these 3 films, was one of the most key people in the early days of the movement. I was the partner that left. (CW)
ALL SCREENINGS WILL ALMOST CERTAINLY HAVE AT LEAST SOME OF THE FILMMAKERS PRESENT.
Also on Saturday night after the screening of Little Bits of Light will be a party to celebrate or bemoan the leaving town of director Campbell Walker and co-writer Grace C. Russell who are moving to Auckland. Actually its also their varioys birthdays, as well as the birthdays of Murmurs directors Alex and Elric too. Please come if you would like to, starts at 10, 10.30. There will be no Q&A after the Saturday night screening but some provision will hopefully be made for those attempting to transition from Little Bits of Light to a party mode that is admittedly somewhat at odds with the film.
Scenes from The Aro Valley was curated and disorganised by Campbell Walker and then hopefully resolved or rescued by Mhairead Connor, Elric Kane, Grace C. Russell and Colin Hodson. The slightly odd program notes were written by Campbell Walker unless otherwise attributed. Thanks to Kate Larkindale and the Paramount, and all the fimmakers involved. In a wider sense, thanks to Bill Gosden and the New Zealand Film Festival for the kind of ongoing support that, among other things, means we have a (sometimes contentious) movement to group our films under.