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Preserving our cinematic archive

The story of the region’s “long, rich history” of cinema is being handed over to the Wairarapa Archive.

The archive of material, called Preserving our Cinematic Stories, includes photographs, interviews, articles and audio collected by Jane Ross, originator and director of the Wairarapa Film Festival, an annual event celebrating local film and filmmaking in the region.

The archive has developed alongside the growth of the festival, Ross said.

She secured funding in 2022 from the Masterton Arts Fund and South Wairarapa Creative Communities Scheme to work with Wairarapa Archive “to curate a collection of stories and interviews since I launched the festival”.

Ross challenged “the amazing Gareth Winter” [former manager of Wairarapa Archive] “to research the history of cinema in Wairarapa”.

Fuelled with Ross’s gifts of “scones, hot chocolate and mint tea” he went one better, researching “the very first theatres and then leading onto cinemas” of the region.

Winter eventually wrote “about every single cinema that has ever existed in Wairarapa”, including the region’s first cinema, the Cosy, built in 1916, the State, which opened in 1935 and the Regent, which was built in 1931 and is still operating today.

Winter’s research resulted in “many, many full-page articles” published in the Wairarapa Times-Age.

It was when Ross started posting on social media, including captions and quotes from articles and the “amazing archival photographs” Winter had unearthed she realised the demand for local history.

“So I had these beautiful old photographs that people went nuts over on social media”, she said.

“Hundreds, literally hundreds of people started commenting about their memories of going to the cinema. It stirred up all their nostalgia and memories – first dates, what they did on a Friday night.”

The Wairarapa Film Festival, which moves between towns throughout the year, provided Ross with an excellent opportunity to continue to discover and tell very local film-related stories.

“Then people started to approach Gareth as well and say things like, ‘Did you know I have a relative from Wairarapa who became a Hollywood actor and used to hang out with Bing Crosby?’ It kind of just snowballed,” Ross said.

In addition to Winter’s articles and social media engagement, Ross is adding contemporary material to the archive.

This includes written articles, interviews with filmmakers, actors and cinema creatives who visited the region during the film festival, and her podcast, Film Talks on Air, which she makes with community access radio station Arrow FM.

Liz Conway, Wairarapa Archive’s assistant manager, is excited Ross is contributing a “contemporary collection”.

“Contemporary collections are crucial”, Conway said.

“People think about archives as being 50 to 100 years old. But if we are not collecting now, there won’t be anything in 50 to 100 years’ time for people to look back on and say, ‘this is what people did in 2023’.”

Ross’s interviews are important not just to help document the history of cinema but to tell the stories of individual filmmakers and creatives as well, Conway said.

“It’s adding to those people’s individual histories as well as creating an archive collection for us.”

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