Archive for the Uncategorized Category

Untitled Dunedin Feature excerpt #2 – “Somewhere really good”

Posted in Uncategorized on February 12, 2012 by uncontrollabledancing

This is the penultimate scene for the film. It’s a long – 50 minutes at the moment – a scene walking through Otago Uni at magic hour. Crazy shooting conditions – wind whistling through the place, totally freewheeling improvised scene, but it turned out wonderfully – one take a few cuts, 93% shooting ratio, one of the best scenes I’ve ever shot I think. Sometimes you get lucky..

Sound recorded – on two zoom H4Ns – by Sally Ann McIntyre. Shot by myself. The actors are Kiti Beech and Jim Currin. This is a nearly 5 minute excerpt. I’m pretty keen on it.
Busy editing now.. It could be a pretty long film… further exceprts will be forthcoming soon.


First footage from new Dunedin based feature…

Posted in Uncategorized on January 15, 2012 by uncontrollabledancing

We haven’t got a title yet, but we’re two thirds of the way through shooting a new drama feature, devised with Jim Currin, and featuring him with Dell McLeod, Maya Turei and others. Shooting more this week… Here’s a small sample scene, featuring Jim and Maya

More to come soon…

Getting Rid of the Albatross / Watching Love Dry: Collected / selected filmworks directed by Campbell Walker

Posted in Uncategorized on September 9, 2011 by uncontrollabledancing

A small but intense retrospective -a burst of 4 features in 2 days (and a few shorts) directed by recent Dunedin immigrant Campbell Walker between 1997 and 2011…

Wednesday 14th September 2011

Uncomfortable Comfortable (1999) 6 30 plus Three Nights(1997)

Why Can’t I Stop This Uncontrollable Dancing (2003) 9.00

Thursday 15th September 2011

Little Bits of Light (2005) 6.30

Broken Black Lines (2009) 9.00 plus W Lead (2010) and Town of Damnation (2010)


Campbell Walker: a bio

“A unique New Zealand cinematic voice – Achieves a kind of integrity and truth really seen on screens, uncluttered by any sense of artificiality” – Lumiere Reader, 2005

“An uncompromising role model for a new generation of young New Zealand digital film-makers” -NZ Listener, 2003

Kind of a prickly, enfant terrible of New Zealand cinema” – NZ Herald, 2005

[choose any three statements]

Campbell Walker is a filmmaker

Campbell Walker makes digital features

Campbell Walker makes relationship films

Campbell Walker makes long slow tortuous films about intimate human interactions

Campbell Walker makes tersely languorous films about the way we interact as New Zealanders from well outside the power structures of film making in New Zealand

Campbell Walker is interested primarily in the possibilities of using cinematic time and space, sound and image, to reflect upon the complexities of culture and human interaction along an axis of realism

Campbell Walker is only interested in acting and has no interest in the camera

Campbell Walker makes ugly cheap films that grind the viewer’s face in the unentertaining minutiae of everyday life

Campbell Walker worked in a video shop in Wellington for ten years

Campbell Walker is an Aro Valley filmmaker

Campbell Walker lives in Dunedin

Campbell Walker is not a normal New Zealand filmmaker

Campbell Walker makes films about being a New Zealander

Campbell Walker will tell you too much about his intimate life

Campbell Walker plunders and loots his own life for material to make films from

Campbell Walker makes personal but fictional films

Campbell Walker just makes it up as he goes along

Campbell Walker is struggling to write a succinct yet definitive version of himself.

“in their utterly different ways, Peter Jackson and Campbell Walker represented the changes in New Zealand cinema and the threats to the viability of moderately budgeted, conventionally shot feature films” Frank Stark in New Zealand Film: An Illustrated History, 2011

LittleBits of Light at the Paramount. Tortuous. I can’t think of another way to describe this latest effort from Campbell Walker. The Film Commission finally gave him some money to make a film and he makes one of the most depressing and humourless films ever created. “ –, 2005

First, you get mellow, as Woody Allen once said, then you get ripe, then you fall off the tree. It is not a process likely to happen any time soon to Wellington film-maker Campbell Walker, who does a good line in prickly intensity. “Most people,” he says, “make movies about the kind of events that change people’s lives. My films are about events that can spoil your week.” Meaning, there are no fireballs or car chases in his movies. Nor do the likes of Meg Ryan and her adorable puppy meet the likes of Tom Hanks in his adorable sweater. Life, and good movies, are not like that.

What Walker does put onscreen is something far more recognisable – namely, the real-time hesitations, ambivalence and emotional loose ends that occur in human interaction. In his movies, he may observe the lives of his inner-city twentysomethings with anthropological rigour, but what happens during filming is also deliberately left open to chance. At a time when most film graduates plot their movies (and their careers) with cold-eyed precision, there is something splendidly perverse in asking an audience to think and react to what they’re seeing, to this extent.” – Gordon Campbell, NZ Listener, 2003

The Films:

Uncomfortable Comfortable (1999)

“The digital [feature film] revolution started [when] Wellington film-maker Campbell Walker debuted his first feature, Uncomfortable Comfortable at the 1999 [NZ] International Film Festival. -Philip Matthews, Senses of Cinema, 2004.

‘Uncomfortable Comfortable’ is really good… The Cocteau dictum states that when every means of visual communication is as easy as using a pencil and a paper, one can express oneself to one’s full potential using anything. I see that Campbell (walker) has really taken it to an extreme and his actors have done likewise” – NZ film pioneer John O’Shea, 1999.

The film’s faith in its characters allows it to sidestep the comedy of embarrassment into which it could so easily slip, and we end up with something much more satisfying and unexpected. In so completely bypassing the mainstream of New Zealand film,Uncomfortable Comfortable makes brave forays into areas seldom troubled by local filmmakers, and brings back footage that’s worth the risk” – Andrew Langridge, NZ Film Fest 1999.

Generally regarded as the first digital feature made in NZ, and something of a cause celebre at the time, we made Uncomfortable from an improvised script developed in workshopping with the actors and then shot over 5 days with increasing infidelity to the original text. In hindsight, a comedy – which we discovered at the first screening when several hundred people laughed in a slow, unwieldy ripple through the movie as they encountered unfamiliar familiarities in the film.

I wanted to take a slow, searching look at a couple in trouble – its not punched up melodrama, just the awkward way two people try and fail to negotiate the realisation that it isn’t really working out. At the time we were working within an explicitly realist mode, somewhere between John Cassavetes and Maurice Pialat, exploring the way that improvisation generates an emotional complexity within the characters while helping to maintain an interestingly curved narrative – CW

Why Can’t I Stop This Uncontrollable Dancing (2003)

Campbell Walker’s closely observed account of a young woman dealing ambiguously with phone harassment from a former boyfriend, Why Can’t I Stop This Uncontrollable Dancing? is virtually a pas de deux for camera and actress. Nia Robyn, best known for her work in Walker’s previous feature Uncomfortable Comfortable, possesses an uncanny, active intelligence on screen. The play of thought and feeling on her alert, fine-featured face commands the camera in an entirely naturalistic fashion. Here she suggests inner resources to match and reward Walker’s relentless scrutiny. Watching, for example, as she listens, hungover, to a series of drunken messages left the night before, you might feel you share every sensation of her amazement and dismay. “ – Bill Gosden, NZ Film Festival, 2003.

A closely observed psychodrama played out in large chunks of real time… A kind of de-dramatised stalker movie building up momentum and compulsion through monomaniacally close attention to the details of a small but disturbing episode in the life of a young woman and an old friend from another town and another time.

Featured in Hamish McDouall’s book 100 Essential New Zealand Films (Awa Press, 2009) – CW

I’m always most interested in making films that are about the way people interact and about the way people can’t interact properly. It would be arrogant indeed to presume that this is something I’m an expert on, and if I was I probably wouldn’t care enough to make a film about it. It’s not as simple or as glib as saying ‘the point is the process’, but to a very large extent, the point is only sufficiently interesting or complex if it is achieved as part of the process, and for that to take place in a film that I make, I usually need not to have a clear idea of how I’m going to get there before I do.

This was especially the case with Dancing. This film was improvised to an almost ridiculous degree – not only did we not plan events. I wouldn’t even let the actors know what they were going to do. They would have to create a whole interaction between themselves with almost no help from me.” — CW, 2003

Little Bits of Light (2005)

Intimate, 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 bouts of depression. Alex and Helen are taking a winter break in a rambling old house in the Taranaki countryside. The day may hold distinct and pleasurable ‘little bits of light’, but the nights are hellish and long… Screen acting of such a high order… 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, 2005

With [Little Bits of] Light, a sturdy whisky would be a more appropriate accompaniment than popcorn. While Walker’s films can be difficult to watch for their unrelenting social realism and rough visual style, they highlight one of the most special things about the medium of cinema – the ability of the film-maker to be able to move and challenge us and make us think about our own lives.” – Kiran Dass, NZ Herald, 2005

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 this kind of low budget but determined film-making, 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.” – CW (2006)

A film about dealing with depression, drawing on my own experiences with then-partner and co-writer Grace C Russell… not as autobiographical a film as has generally been assumed. – CW

Broken Black Lines (2009)

Walker’s style (along with many of the Aro Valley Digital film-makers) has always been minimalist/realist with largely improvised dialogue (imagine a mixture of Jean Eustache, Chantal Akerman and John Cassavetes) going back to his first short Three Nights and the subsequent feature-films Uncomfortable Comfortable,Why Can’t I Stop This Uncontrollable Dancing and Little Bits of Light. But this new film has something else. The others didn’t necessarily lack this thing – but it is stronger in Broken Black Lines, more refined (which is only to be expected). There is a self-conscious sense of humour which is refreshing in long take, minimalist, improvised cinema. This film is really funny. And the kinds of jokes it makes are both familiar and unexpected. Familiar because the humor could sit comfortably in an episode of Friends or Seinfeld, as well as Eustache’s The Mother and the Whore (collapsing the very real distinction between ‘high’ and ‘low’ aesthetic assumptions which dominate both mainstream and underground representations of themselves). Unexpected because experimental drama has a habit of taking itself too seriously and collapsing into modernist paradoxes (the realist film which does not realise it is a film is not possible in these times).

Note the subtle shifts of power between the characters (and the characteristically strong female lead – something all Walker’s films possess). Walker’s film revels in the affect-image – in the face (halting action, delaying the relation between cause and effect, opening onto a Deleuzian any-space-whatever). This film makes me feel things. I feel warmth toward the characters – genuine warmth. It is not warmth which is there from the start (engendered by stereotypes) but a warmth which builds as I experience something intimate with them. In Walker’s other films I felt far more like a voyeur, while in this one I feel invited in – as if my presence is necessary to cement the union of the characters. I feel joy at certain moments, happiness at others. It is a film filled with warmth and love. But it is not a film which ignores the pressures of life in order to represent objective happiness – it offers a sense of ‘happiness’ which is fleeting and entirely subjective, negotiated in the moment (without knowing in advance what it is which will make me happy, a non-consumptive happiness).” – Dick Whyte, Hotlink Cinema, 2009

Broken Black Lines was made in Wellington over small bursts between 2007 and now. The budget is in the “negligible” category, probably around NZ$500. We designed it to be a no-budget film that we could make quickly in 2007 when I returned from Auckland to Wellington on holiday. Half of it was shot then, half of it two years later, after what could be described as some fairly dramatic changes in the director’s life.

I’d been living in Auckland, married, and working an office job, which was making me more and more angry and depressed – this is very present in Part 1. We’d been planning a bigger project, working towards looking for funding that didn’t arrive. My friends Elric Kane and Andy Chappell, who were still in Wellington, basically told me I had to come down and make a film with them, so I adapted an idea for a TV series into a La Ronde-style piece that I figured could be made quickly and easily.

Characteristically, when I came down to Wellington to make it, I hadn’t really given anyone a lot of warning of what was going to happen – a quick emailed treatment, a notion for just a couple of the actors, an extreme level of enthusiasm for making a film again, and a parallel level of complete instability on the director’s part…

After shooting the first two parts in 2007 – and another part that I abandoned – I settled down for an extended period of being depressed and not feeling up to completing the film. In 2009, I rewrote the stuff we’d done, in many ways to reflect a slightly more pessimistic worldview that was suddenly appropriate to my life, and with the help of friends shot parts 3 and 4 over 2 days.” – CW (2009)

Screenings take place at the Threave Cinematheque, 1/367 High Street, City Rise, Dunedin. Entry by koha, informal or formal conversation with the filmmaker will take place after screenings. Films will start more or less on time.

Mise-en-abîme 1: Ghost Movies: Experimental shorts from the Aro Valley Digital Cinema 1997-2007

Posted in Uncategorized on October 24, 2010 by uncontrollabledancing

These are the programme notes for tonight’s screening at the Frederick Street Light and Sound Exploration Society in Wellington, a retrospective of short experimental films from artists associated with the Aro Valley Digital Cinema curated by myself, and featuring one new film by myself… and one to be discussed later…

The Uncomfortable Film Club presents


<placing into infinity…an infinite reproduction of a sequence>

< to put into the centre>

A regularly irregular series of screenings based around buried cinemas of expansion and contraction.

First screening 24/10/10

Ghost Movies: Experimental shorts from the Aro Valley digital cinema 1997-2007

Frederick Street Light and Sound Exploration Society

Frederick St


“The future of cinematography belongs to a new race of solitaries who will shoot films by putting their last cent into it and not let themselves be taken in by the material routines of the trade.” -Robert Bresson

The “minimal realist” feature films of the Aro Valley Digital Cinema are now well documented. Less screened and known is a lively parallel/ related scene producing a large amount of similarly singular work in a short experimental vein.

This is a lively, diverse set of work – mostly previously unseen – emphasising strands of adventurous and lateral responses to the notion of a personal cinema of poverty. All produced for essentially zero funding, by set of individualistic stylists sharing an engagement with the idea of manifesting the caméra-stylo in personal ways, these films make use of a variety of techniques and aesthetic perspectives that will surprise those used to the less expressive and varied palettes of the Aro feature films.

The films:

Haircut (Diane McAllen, 2003, 4 mins)

Usually better known as the producing member of the original Gordon Productions collective, McAllens experimental video work from 1996’s Spirit Level to this series of works tends towards explorations of the textural possibilities of the medium in domestic, diaristic modes, or constructing experimental narratives around anxious or depressed female characters – usually played or referred to in the first person.

In both types of work, there’s a strong attention to the textural and lateral possibilities – characteristically of S-VHS – sometimes with ingeniously transparent variations on techniques like stop motion and painted animation.

Haircut features a variation on a frequent McAllen strategy, refilming – in this case a handheld refilming off a TV screen, of a fixed camera aimed at a mirror – behind the artist unsatisfactorily seeking comfort in a new haircut. Needless to say, even repeatedly re-applied makeup isn’t going to bring much comfort through all these screens…

Faded Memories (The tape is not damaged) (Diane McAllen, 2003, 4 mins)

…But everything else is in this aggressive reworking of a failed film about a failed relationship. Again McAllen is utilising the distinctive colour, grain and bleed of S-VHS refilming with other multiple layers of technological obsolescence to construct a bitter and baffling rejoinder to the hopes and aspirations of another of McAllen’s anxious heroines. Oh yeah, and it’s also a stop motion film that never stops… Perhaps the only way to get past all these memories of failure is just to keep glossing past them…?

Firecat (Nia Robyn, as Robyn V, 1997, 2 mins)

Robyn (also Phipps) is probably best known as the superb female lead in the Aro features Uncomfortable Comfortable, Why Can’t I Stop This Uncontrollable Dancing and Little Bits of Light, but was probably the first person involved with the Aro “scene” to actually start making films. Firecat is typical of the experimental poetics of her style: an enraptured study of the textures and shadows in dialectic of flickering flames and a cat jumping from a tree to a rooftop, set to a clattering soundtrack.

Vera (Colin Hodson, 2007, 6 mins)

The first part of Vera is pure visceral/ kinetic sensation, the joy of making films. Director Hodson and collaborator/ subject Vera play small games of hide and seek while spinning the camera around on a rope – No-one will ever lend Hodson a camera again after this! – in the middle of an nocturnal urban atmosphere.

For the second part, we shift to a static interior, a scene and a tone superficially familiar to those who know Hodson as the evasive lead in Shifter, On and Uncomfortable Comfortable. He and Vera are talking in the background, and it sounds like an intimate scene of disconnection from one of those films… Except here the play is with the expectations of the audience, here the characters are articulate and engaged… and the piece functions as a critique of the limitations of the drama of the other films.

I shot this one evening in late 2005. I wanted to get to know Vera more, and asking her to help me collaborate on a video project was a great way of getting us working together.

The second part of the video is actually a real-time erasing of the second video I wanted her to be in, shot immediately after the first part. For this video, I was wanting to capture non-English speakers talking to me in their native tongue. What I thought would be interesting is that these people would talk to me in a language I do not understand, but, because we have a friendship, there would be some sort of communication anyway – a physical one, demontrated through body language and facial expressions. After I recorded it, Vera was uncomfortable with what I was trying to do. (She states her confusion with my objective in the recording, as you hear). She asked me to erase the recording of her recounting any pets she has had spoken in Ukrainian. So what we see/hear in the second part is the overwriting of the tape, and of course, laying down a new recording in the process.” – Colin Hodson

Smoke (Colin Hodson, 2007, 5 mins)

A striking elegy for a new city about to be lost – more from the fertile series of short works Hodson made in Amsterdam in 2005.

The video camera in Smoke searches. Looking for someone to connect with. Looking in apartments across the road. Anywhere the lights are on. Nobody’s home. But it’s late 2am. So everyone’s asleep okay. Soon a few people wander by: a passing cyclist or some people at the end of the street, drinking done. But they don’t see me, don’t come close enough.

So the city itself offers me some company then, going about its stillness. Same stuff since medieval times. I’m just one person looking across the roofs late at night, but those roofs have been gazed on for hundreds of years. I can’t feel those gazes, connect to them, but I believe they must have existed. My memory of the city will be big, but the city won’t have noticed me. I’m too small.

The only thing I can see that suggests transience at the same scale as me is the blue wisp of steam curling out of that chimney over there. Smoke/steam. Steady. It keeps me company through the whole filming. And I’m filming cause I’m leaving. An accelerated year brought to a close. So the filmmaking is me hanging on. Trying to catch the feeling of the apartment I had, and the street, and neighbours you can’t see, but were there the whole time. You’ll see them, I caught them in other videos.

The sky glows, clouds fed by the light of the city. Light for who though? More people like me? Cause the light’s bleeding out of the city and bouncing off the clouds but there doesn’t seem to be any consciousness/thought behind those lights. The city’s asleep I mean.

Why the steam? What’s going on in that building? Is someone feeding that fire? Does it know about me too? That smoke, that steam, that’s what I can hang onto. It gives me something.” – Colin Hodson

Terminal (Andrew Chappell, 2004, 15 min)

A stranger who is diminished upon arrival at a dead end is played by free jazz saxophonist Rick Jensen with a stern, distant grace, and filmed with a rigour and patience that typifies the Aro features, combined with visual elegance and measured editing tones all its own by Andrew Chappell in this terse study of the tenuous gap between solitary self-possession and desolate loneliness. The emptiness of the city is the key motif here, in a film wholly attuned to the alienating rhythms Wellington can use to welcome visitors.

Chappell’s debut short – he works as a cinematographer both in film industry and on Aro films – famously made lousy genre filmmaker Greg Page say he felt like killing himself during it, a promise he should have been forcibly encouraged to keep. Any attuned audience will find it immediate and mesmerising.

Girl Yawning (Elric Kane, 2004, 6 mins)

Currently resident in L.A., but self identifying as an Aro filmmaker, Kane is probably best known for his feature collaborations with fellow U.S. resident/ lifelong friend Alexander Greenhough (Kissy Kissy, Murmurs, I Think I’m Going). On his own, though, he’s made a rich array of short experimental pieces, many like this one on Pixelvision.

Shot during a period of isolation in 2004, we’re again looking through the alienating effect of multiple frames, as the already garbled nature of online chat room videos is further visually degenerated and fragmented by Pixelvision… The attempted palliative of various and anonymous human contact thus becomes an even deeper, smaller isolation in between the requisite codes and gestures.

Live cinema. Soundtrack composed by Elric Kane and performed by Haulout Seal Orchestra.

Bardo Follies 2 – Burn Baby Burn (Dick Whyte, 10 mins, 2006)

Dick Whyte is definitively the most prolific of the Aro Valley digital filmmakers…

Since the late 90s he’s produced a dizzying amount of experimental film work, much of which remains unseen – although his most recent work is usually produced for and released online (see ). He’s also a theorist, poet, writer, musician and painter – among other things.

This is a sequel (NOT a remake) to Owen Land/George Landow’s classic avant-garde film “Bardo Follies” using an old 16mm projector (thanks Alex) and some film originally from the New Zealand Film Unit (thanks Toby and Melissa). Although the images are projected on 16mm, the film was made digitally by filming the wall.
I was interested in the idea of making sequels to avant-garde films to question the avant-garde’s reliance on the ideology of the “new.” In a postmodern world (where “everything has been done”) how can the avant-garde operate successfully? And why is the avant-garde classically afraid of revisiting ideas?” – Dick Whyte.

Live cinema performed by Dick Whyte.

Curator’s response:

A cinema retrospective is always an interaction with ghosts. With this one, even more so: themes of isolation, disconnection abound, ghosts of relationships, memories, failures bleed through all these works… The same thing is visually expressed through the play with multiple frames and low resolution formats breaking down the image resolution, accuracy, manifestation… and the singular and personal approaches constitute a kind of “ghost genre”, made in ways that are shadows of the traditional film-making apparatus, approximated responses to cinema history well and truly separated from the main lines – left to germinate, then break down in a quiet cul de sac suburb off the side of a small, self-deceiving city of bureaucrats and middle people…

But from here I like some of my ghosts, I don’t want to exorcise them all, they keep me company in my small house. The reason for bringing all these ghosts back tonight is to come to terms with them – to claim a place for them in the world. Isn’t that what a ghost really wants? To validate the death? Otherwise they can get too close.

But any time spent in such a town of damnation – that is, any town anywhere, for an underground artist – usually involves, by necessity, avoiding a too intimate contact…of course it’s not always as simple as that. So, to keep moving, walking around the streets in solitude, listening to the music of the place, is just a normal practice… but they’ll always catch up with you again.

Being alone and intimate with a ghost can provide for an uncertain relationship to solitude. Ghosts aren’t predictable, they don’t manifest in accordance with the laws of physics… Instead they switch on and off, dart from time to time, or place to place. Their physicality is not made manifest but remains perceptible, and obviously…. haunting…

You can’t ever quite capture and contain them, but the process of trying to do so can create something else just as meaningful, impactful. Hopefully.

With this is mind, here are two very different new films that constitute a curatorial response to this programme:

Town of Damnation

AABCD (Both Campbell Walker, 2010)

Mise en Abyme is curated by Campbell Walker, who wrote the notes unless otherwise credited. He can be contacted at, and these notes will be available on his film blog,

Thanks to all the filmmakers, Daniel Beban and Sally Ann McIntyre.


There is an Aro Valley digital group on vimeo:

Dick Whyte’s work can be found at

and at

Colin Hodson is at

Drones for Marina 3

Posted in Uncategorized on October 1, 2010 by uncontrollabledancing


Another film in the Drones series of experimental shorts.

This one is called Drones For Marina 3: Rethinking A Glib Gesture (an autofictional documentary).

In related news, there is now an Aro Valley Digital vimeo group at

Lots of work there – everything from here of course, but also film by Dick Whyte (who’s set the group up) and Elric Kane up  already – including Elric’s insider feature doco on  the Aro Valley digital movement, Campbell Walker is a Friend of Mine.

“Scenes from the Aro Valley, Paramount, April 20-23 2006”-

Posted in Uncategorized on September 23, 2010 by uncontrollabledancing

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)

Preceded by


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)

Preceded by

Experimental Shorts

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)

preceded by


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)


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.

Rough notes towards a kind of a manifesto: A one off annual birthday post.

Posted in Uncategorized on March 23, 2010 by uncontrollabledancing

The way we look at films has changed – most movie watching of even remotely independent work is done at home now, and audiences are strongly attracted to notions of added value (which is often simply translatable as extra time in the film world), in ways they can assimilate when they have time to.

The notion of a single version of a movie, made to a compact running time and designed to keep an audience interested in the world of the film by conforming to a set of generic rules is becoming outdated. The new, increasingly home-based viewer is interested in many kinds of extra possibilities, in “value” based notions of getting more from the film.

With this increased tendency of audiences to watch at home, in their own time, we lose some of the communal elements of cinema. But we gain something else – the ability to speak directly to the viewer in the singular sense.

Changing trends in film consumption back this up: Viewers across the board are interested in seeing things that are unique, that give them singular  experiences.

In mainstream action cinema, they’re looking for an extremity of spectacle: 3D, the continuing vogue for increasingly complex effects, the creation of new worlds never before seen.

In genre cinema, audiences have shifted back to back to different extremities: extreme and sadistic gore, “torture porn”, hitherto unacceptable anti-social or morally more aggressive perspectives are in demand; things the mainstreams of genre films seemed to have taken away from audiences after the collapse of Italian genre cinema in the 80s (at the time, probably the world’s most extreme) made that world much more restrained.

In art films, after the 90s vogue for genre-style excesses of sex and violence largely returned to the newly revitalized international genre cinema, we see an increased interest in slow, oblique, complex work, combining realism with lateral understandings of the world, and increasingly, big chunks of “real”, often de-dramatized time. Directors like Apitchapong Weerasethakul, Jia Zhang-Ke and Carlos Reygadas are the new heroes of this movement.

And what’s most exciting about all these contrary elements, is that there is increasingly room for all of them to function. Film is increasingly coming down to its fundamental niche structure: There are enough people in each of these corners to sustain the work, if you can work out how to get it to them and can treat them with respect – and the internet, with its cross-boundary communities, gives you the tools to do so.

It does mean radical changes to  how we fund, pitch and sell films – and requires the acknowledgement from those doing so that much of their thinking is possibly either out-dated or very niche-specific. Selling extreme genre films is very different to selling mainstream spectacle cinema is very different to slow art films.

For filmmakers within any of these niches, there are now interesting possibilities to stretch the paradigm, and lead the way to where things are possibly going, or rather could be going if someone takes the initiative. Normally, the pressures of film production would take an aggressively individual film and endeavour to batter it into an existing genre that could be seen as marketable.

A difficult, harshly realistic film about a relationship falling apart could be forcibly repackaged within one of these sellable notions: A thriller with highlighted and exploitative sexual content; an arthouse thriller with a twisting structure; a prestige-based “genre drama” with recognized actors and glossy production values; a black comedy;  a romantic comedy.

The length would need to be 90-110 minutes, regardless of how it functioned at other lengths. The actors would be chosen for their marketability external to the content, rather than their ability to inhabit the roles fully. Even the toughest “visionary” director could use up most of their limited emotional and physical energies on battling to retain their vision on one of the above compromises – but very few “properly funded” films get made without reference to them.

And the “proper funding” usually goes into spurious and counter productive elements based around the marketing of the work – casting name actors and paying them disproportionate fees, spending money on “production values” that will more distract from the central meaning of the film.

I’d suggest that this industrial production methodology is an increasingly outdated notion, contemptuous of the needs of the audience, designed for the convenience of an industry that strives to view itself as making art, but that is usually intent on stifling any of the individualism that art requires.

The audience in today’s world – well, obviously some of it is comfortable being led round by the nose, still – but the parts of the audience that are interested in work that is not industrial in nature, are showing their requirements and voting for the new paradigms, by creating new pan-national communities of interest. The possibilities for sustainable niches are becoming larger and clearer, even though they are poorly served by the people supplying the product.

This sounds terrible, but in fact it’s a fantastic opportunity that may never occur again, to completely rewrite all the paradigms of how films are made, marketed and viewed.

Obvious the key thing here is still money: the key to sustainable film production outside the industrial model is developing systems of meaningful and unique film-making at the lowest possible budget. This is not necessarily a compromise, this is an opportunity to create a new path in making films.

In fact, developing a low budget aesthetic involves far less compromise than conforming to the industrial model – if the filmmaker/s are prepared to think laterally and develop aims that come from within  their ideas, rather than from without, and from what they’re expected to do.

For my work, I find it most interesting to make films based around realism and characters. As such I focus on performers and real spaces, and become flexible about the secondary issues, like production gloss, crew size, story structure. I still make films that look good for their budgets (which vary), and that are strongly structured and dramatic, but those things are not the reason for making the film, so they are less important. With more money, I usually want to buy more time, time to shoot , to work with the actors, to work with the material, time to concentrate on the film rather than having to scrounge to live.

This means I don’t work with normal crew structures – I think a crew of 3 to 6 is optimal, I’ve never had a production designer or costume and make up – and I don’t work to a strict script, but rather a template of possibilities, and a spine to work around. This gives me room to create characters that grow as we develop them and that are allowed to effect the events of the film, and a chance to make full use of the abilities of the actors we work with.

This also means interesting issues with crews. A crew member with too much experience in the industrial system can struggle with this more lateral way of working, because it’s at odds with how films are usually made, and means they cannot apply their normal understanding of  whether the film is going well or badly, or will be good or bad.

Sometimes this creates a situation where they’re applying criteria that are inappropriate to this kind of film, because they’re not in a position where they’ve seen other work of this nature. Sometimes this is a failure to grasp the aesthetic, sometimes just a tendency to impose values that aren’t suitable to the work.

The films I make, even with ridiculous poverty of financial means, reach and affect an audience. They’re by no means liked or respected universally – and much of the most trenchant or aggressive criticism comes from people who also make films.

But for all the people who are gratified that they didn’t like them, there are similarly people who are shaken by the effect the work has on them despite its lack of conformity to the industrial models they’re used to. Even with opposition to the ways the films are made, and the expectations made on them, people find the work fascinating, hypnotic even. The primacy given to physical and emotional realism above spectacle and structure means people reach individual moments of recognition with elements of the film, and so every audience member has a complex and unique response and understanding of the characters and the events.

With my first film, Uncomfortable Comfortable, we thought we’d made a serious, difficult film, and maybe we had. But when we first screened it at the 1999 NZ Film Festival, we discovered we’d also made a comedy. But not a normal comedy – the way it worked was that audience members laughed at the moments they recognized,  that they could relate to. There would be a few people laughing here, a few there, a couple over there. People would laugh – awkwardly, often – at things that weren’t very funny at all, because they’d been permitted to find them funny rather than just painful or sad, which they often were as well.

This became a central focus for my understanding of film making – everybody is watching a different film all the time, and everybody’s responses are interesting and different because of that (Except maybe the audience member who is simply dismissive because they can’t deal with their expectations of what a film should contain not being met).

Respect for learning from the audience is then appropriate. What is ironic, to me, is that I’m regarded as an uncompromising art film maker, who is by definition disinterested in meeting the audience’s needs. Really, I’m disinterested in what I’m expected to believe the audience wants, because this isn’t what I want as an audience member – and the response from the audience to the films I’ve made backs me up on this.

What I want is something that I haven’t seen before, something that reflects the world I live in at least in some way, something that doesn’t make me feel I’ve been expected to respond in a set fashion – something that allows me to determine my own response, something that reflects the complexity and multiplicity of the world. Sometimes the industrial model can do this – but I can’t see it as being the best way to do so.  It’s certainly not the most economical.

As well, the rise of quality television primarily watched on DVD gives additional new understanding to how audiences are consuming work. A series like The Wire shows how much a genre based audience – traditionally often regarded contemptuously as a conservative or undiscerning audience- is interested in lengthy, complex, morally and physically ambiguous material – it is common for viewers nowadays to watch a series like this in one or two marathon bursts, to heighten the immersion into the world, and for extra material to be available, to soften the shock of leaving at the end.

Similarly, charting the responses to a legendarily long 70s cult film like Jacques Rivette’s Out 1: Noli Ma Tangere (1971) is valuable. For many years an almost lost film, with a reputation that grew out of proportion to the number of people who got to see it, the only way to see the film was at sporadic film festival screenings.

Screened once on TV in Italy, and otherwise pretty much lost – and as such known as a Holy Grail of a kind of film making that seemed lost as well – the existence of a watchable version to be downloaded in the grey zone of the internet has brought the film to a new audience with an appetite and the means to appreciate it. The response to the 12 hour film on the (admittedly rarefied) world of hardcore film watchers has been nothing short of ecstatic, and if a legitimate version of the film was made available, it would seem readily be a profitable proposition.

As is the case with other superlative marathon cinema (Bela Tarr’s Satantango, Fassbinder’s Berlin Alexanderplatz, Sybergerg’s Hitler: A Film About Germany), the effect of a film which justifies extreme running time is disproportionately high. For me, Satantango was a critical experience in understanding and loving film – what starts out as a slow but compelling trek through a dark and distant world significantly forces you into the position of adjusting down to  it’s rhythm. Once it has you there, it demonstrates possibilities of emotion, power, sustained tension that “normal” length films can’t begin to access.

Previously, finding even a way to get an audience to be able to engage with this extremity of cinema was difficult; the logistics of finding a screening venue, the need for the audience to be able to take the time out from their lives for such a significant rupture – and significantly, for recovery as well.

But with the increased consumption within the home forced by the process of accessing specific areas of cinema, it’s no longer financially irresponsible to try and make films that don’t fit the 80-120 minute feature format. A film idea that justifies an unusual length or a modular structure may actually provide a more rewarding long term experience – and in a time where audiences have for the first time ever responded to being encouraged to buy and keep films, a more complex and deeper relationship with the viewer can be encouraged.

We don’t need to fit everything into 90 minutes so people don’t get a sore arse in the cinema; we can make the film 4 hours long if its justified, or break it into different related films, or make different versions of the film presenting different perspectives, or force the film to mutate and present new perspectives to the viewer with each viewing.

Obviously, the material will need to justify the extra work to be put in by a viewer – and there is something to be said for presenting a standard length work as an entry point, and for viewing in an actual cinema. A new marketing question will increasingly become, what things extra to the film will justify an audience wanting to spend time in the film’s world?

For the next decade or so, there’s an amazing opportunity to redefine how films interact with their audience. It will become possible to make these films away from the rigid structures imposed by the mutual straitjackets of theatrical release and industrial production. Film makers, funders and distributors are in a position to allow the existence of newer, smarter, more complex and more individual film to reach an audience, and to become financially responsible in doing so.

28/3 edited… to remove being posted twice. Cw