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Filmmaker lifts lid on puppet government

Internationally acclaimed local filmmaker Celia Jaspers’ latest short film will be screening in Martinborough this weekend as part of the Wairarapa Film Festival.

‘The Polycees’ is a fantastical family film that entertainingly explores the question, ‘what if the government was controlled by puppets?’

Originally developed as a concept 18 years ago, the film focuses on the Prime Minister’s daughter, played by Mischa Blake, and her discovery of a shadow puppet government led by Spoo, the real decision-maker in New Zealand politics.

‘The Polycees’ had its North American premiere in Los Angeles this June at the Dances with Films Festival and is gaining traction overseas with festival screenings across Ireland, Wales, Italy, and the Netherlands.

Jaspers’ previous short film ‘Milk’, which was shot entirely in Martinborough, received critical acclaim and raked in over 45 awards at international film festivals.

Jaspers describes ‘The Polycees’ as a “fun take” on the political landscape in New Zealand that aims to make learning about elections, democracy, and civics fun and engaging for kids with its light-hearted plot about the [literally] underground secret society of puppets that really runs every parliament on the planet.

She wanted the film to be educational with a “light touch” while keeping its running time to nine minutes has meant that schools can use it as a resource in lesson plans to teach students about democratic processes.

Although she hadn’t planned for the film to start showing around New Zealand during the same month as the general election but noted how ironic that was, Jaspers certainly appreciated the irony of the timing.

Adding a splash of reality to the weird and wonderful world of the film, Jaspers was granted permission to film at the Beehive – although only for a two-hour slot early on a Sunday morning.

Other scenes were filmed at Old Parliament House [although, no, those tunnels you’ll see in the film aren’t actually in the capital but are instead located out toward Eastbourne] and even TVNZ political editor Jessica Mutch McKay puts in an appearance, suitably typecast in the role of a journalist.

Although most of her films are filmed elsewhere, Jaspers said she enjoys working in Wairarapa whenever she can as she loves the “community spirit.”

If Jaspers’ name rings a bell, it may be because you’ve seen it flash across your television screen during the opening credits for ‘Country Calendar’, which she’s helped direct since 2015.

Covering stories for ‘Country Calendar’ around Wairarapa and up in Central Hawke’s Bay has provided Jaspers with the valuable opportunity to hone her skills and develop her directorial style, but she said she’s “never been happier” while working than when she was filming ‘The Polycees’.

“It was just a fun and joyous day” that confirmed for her that her move from filming documentaries and reality-style programming to short narrative films – with feature films on the horizon – is the right decision.

“It felt like ‘this is what I’m meant to do’,” she said.

Jaspers has some hard-won advice for aspiring filmmakers who want to break into the country’s small screen industry.

“Follow your heart,” she said.

“If it really screams in your head, if you know that’s what you’re meant to be doing – then you do a disservice not being in the arts.”

The future looks bright for Jaspers as she continues directing local TV shows while working to get funding together for a feature film she plans to shoot in Martinborough.

“That is way off,” she said, “but it is an exciting opportunity to showcase Martinborough to the world.”

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