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Filmmaker turning another page

Having heard glowing reviews about the “small, friendly, and convivial” literary festival, Gaylene Preston is “very much looking forward to having a good time” at this year’s event, being held on 12-14 May.

“When you get writers together, you know stories are going to flow,” she says.

As a “small-town girl” herself – she grew up in Greymouth – the event’s location is also an attraction.

Filmmaker Dame Gaylene Preston will be speaking at this years Featherston Booktown Festival. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

Filmmaker Dame Gaylene Preston will be speaking at this years Featherston Booktown Festival. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

“In a small town, there aren’t enough people living there to be clubby,” she says.

“People can’t get into little gangs and declare other people off limits. You have to get on with your neighbour in a small town. And I really like it.”

Another bonus is that Preston’s session on the evening of Saturday, May 13 involves a conversation with broadcaster and writer Noelle McCarthy, whose debut memoir Grand she’s “so in awe of”.

 

The long-time filmmaker says her own first foray into writing a book began while she was a visiting fellow at Jesus College in Cambridge several years ago.

“I’d been invited there to think and reflect. And I just started writing almost accidentally,” she recalls.

The book – which she describes as being the “story of my life making films rather than a personal story” – had a long gestation period, due to taking a two-year break from writing after a head injury.

Speed bumps aside, being an author has proven to be “an entirely different adventure” to her four-decade-plus filmmaking career, and one she is “enjoying immensely”.

Preston has generally written the scripts for her films, in addition to directing and producing them, but the discipline is very different, she says.

“A film script is a blueprint for a movie, so you’re describing what you want the camera to see, and how you want the story to unfold, in a completely different medium,” she explains.

“Whereas in a book, you’re actually writing in the medium that the audience is going to receive it. Which means, you know, you have to pay a lot more attention to exactly how you say something. What’s on the plate is everything.”

But while creating a book demands more rigour in that respect, it also offers more freedom than “filmmaking and even scriptwriting, [which] is very much scheduled – you can just muck around writing it at your own pace”.

But that doesn’t mean Preston’s planning to abandon the collaborative art of filmmaking for the solitary pursuit of writing.

In fact, she’s “pretty occupied at the moment” with raising finance for her next screen project, although it’s still “early days – at least a year away”.

“After my head injury, I thought I would never make another film, but I’m pleased to say I’m currently raising finance for a film that I want to make with the Masterton-based artist Dame Robin White,” she says.

In the past few years, Dame Robin – whom Preston describes as “a taonga [treasure] of New Zealand” – has been working in collaboration with Pasifika women making massive tapa cloth works that have been exhibited in Japan and Australia.

With a retrospective of the artist’s work currently touring New Zealand, Preston intends to “make a film with her about the collaborative work because of the terrible devastation not just of the Pacific but the whole globe”.

“It’s now time for us to come together and do things together. And I think this film will illustrate that.”

Called ‘Grace’, the film will be Preston’s 15th screenwork.

Asked to name her favourite, she demurs: “That’s like asking me you know if I’ve got a favourite child.”

She does, however, admit to “a soft spot” for the 2003 dramatic feature film ‘Perfect Strangers’.

“It’s a devious film, a genre-bender that questions genre storytelling.

“It’s about a woman who falls in love with a man she has mortally wounded in the middle of nowhere. And after he dies, she carries on a great affair with him – having put him in the freezer.

“Only a small-town girl could have thought it up. I think Featherston people might well relate to it.”

For more Booktown information and tickets, visit www.booktown.org.nz

Flynn Nicholls
Flynn Nicholls
Flynn Nicholls is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age who regularly writes about education. He is originally from Wellington and is interested in environmental issues and public transport.

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