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Inside Wairarapa’s third film festival

This year’s Wairarapa Film Festival will showcase nine diverse short and feature-length films, all with a unique connection to the region.
Among them is director Dame Gaylene Preston’s 1980 groundbreaking documentary Learning Fast.
Courtesy of Dame Gaylene Preston from material preserved and made available by Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision.
Set in Masterton, the film follows seven Mākoura College students as they leave school in the quest to find work when inflation was 17 per cent and unemployment was rising.
“I knew the devastation to families and to the emerging children that could occur from being found unemployed,” Preston said.
“This was a generation who came from a time where they were brought up entirely to expect a job, cradle-to-grave work in New Zealand.”
Preston and her crew spent months filming, gaining the trust of the students and their families. The problem was they had only limited film to shoot with.
“We only had ten minute rolls on a camera, so we’d go in there and always look as though we were filming and then wait for me to do the roll signal,” said Preston.
After the shoot was wrapped, it was time to craft the story in the edit.
“I’d shoot and then write spec, get the film processed and printed and go and work with Dell King, a brilliant editor,” said Preston. “Dell was there for the long haul. People think of the shoot, but actually it’s made in the edit.”
Learning Fast was shown on TVNZ and a special screening was held at Mākoura College.
“A teacher came up to me afterwards and said ‘Thank you very much – you’ve shown me my pupils’,” said Preston.
“Sadly, I have to say that since 1979, when I was shooting Learning Fast, it hasn’t changed. The chasm between pupils and teachers is totally written into the system.”
Also playing at the festival is the New Zealand feature, ‘Shut Eye’.
It tells the story of a young insomniac Aucklander who discovers an online counsellor using a technique called ASMR – a type of therapy claiming to use various sounds to help cure depression.
Local Martinborough Producer Celia Jaspers was an advisor on Shut Eye’s deliverables and distribution.
“ASMR is to do with when you hear something quite delicate and quite light, but it’s all that you hear and it’s very, very quiet and suddenly it heightens senses inside of your head, it just helps you clear your mind of everything around you,” she said.
With the theme centred on the healing power of audio, the film’s soundscape also delivers a unique auditory experience.
“It’s very finely recorded, so there’s all this lovely stuff going on in the side speakers. It’s just a great experience as it’s not too long and it’s a good New Zealand film and I think it’s a very easy watch.”
With screenings, workshops and Q&A sessions with the filmmakers, Wairarapa Film Festival director Jane Ross hopes to inspire future generations.
“My dream is to make sure that everyone knows who our local storytellers are.
“I’ve had people turn up in their farm and gumboots to the cinema, and I’ve also had young children come along as well, even primary school age. They want to come and learn the craft of filmmaking.”
Now in its third year, the programme runs from May 26 to 28 and promises more choice and diversity than ever before.
Tickets are available at the Regent Cinema and online.

Phil Stebbing
Phil Stebbing
Phil Stebbing is Wairarapa’s Local Focus video journalist. He regularly covers in-depth stories on arts, culture, people, health, and the occasional cat.

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