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In the late 1970s, a team of emerging Kiwi filmmakers based themselves in Masterton. There, they followed a group of teenagers making a hopeful and tumultuous entry into the adult world.

Today, that young film crew are among “the giants of New Zealand cinema” — and that early project is about to be shown in Wairarapa for the first time in several decades.

Learning Fast, one of the first films from eminent director Dame Gaylene Preston, will be one of the headline screenings at the Wairarapa Film Festival, which kicks off in Masterton next week.

The one-hour documentary follows seven Mākoura College students as they made the transition from school to the workforce: Against the backdrop of high unemployment, social upheaval, familial challenges, and unsympathetic politics. The film chronicles the teens’ “big dreams and big dramas” as they grapple to find their place in the “big wide world”.

Preston spent two years in Masterton filming the students and their whanau, accompanied by director of photography Alun Bollinger and sound engineer Lee Tamahori — both of whom went on to illustrious careers in cinematography and film direction.

Though it has been used as a resource in secondary schools throughout New Zealand, Learning Fast has rarely been seen in Masterton since its premiere in 1980 — and has only recently been digitised by the New Zealand Film Archive.

The third annual Wairarapa Film Festival will showcase both short and feature-length films, all including Wairarapa actors, directors, screenwriters, musicians, and production crew.

Wairarapa talent on display this year includes Jemaine Clement [voicing an animated sheep], award-winning actor and Rathkeale College old boy Kieran Charnock, a “cleverly-crafted suspense/horror” by Pahiatua-based Derek and Alaina Sims, and an “angry” tale about stolen Māori artefacts by activist filmmaker and Chanel College alum Barry Barclay.

Screenings will be followed by Q&A sessions with cast and crew members — including Preston, who will attend the matinee screening of Learning Fast next Saturday.

Festival organiser Jane Ross, herself a Mākoura College old girl, said the visit from Learning Fast’s now internationally acclaimed crew is still remembered fondly by the Masterton community: “It was like Hollywood had come to town.”

Ross hoped to connect with the seven main cast members, and invite them to the screening: To celebrate both their personal journeys and “the remarkable achievement this film was”.

“It’s still gobsmacking to think these giants of New Zealand cinema were once based in Masterton,” she said.

“It would be amazing to find out what the students have been doing since. But also to give them, and the wider community, an opportunity to see themselves on the big screen. And reflect on how our town was and how we lived back then.

“It’s so important for people to see themselves reflected [in media]. That was a key motivator for Dame Gaylene — New Zealanders weren’t seeing themselves, their places, or their stories represented on screen.

“It’s a key motivator for this festival — to share local stories and inspire local people to tell stories of their own.”

In 1979, Preston, who had just established her first production company, set out to make a film capturing the impacts of unemployment on young people and New Zealand communities.

In Learning Fast, the Mākoura students start off with high expectations for their post-school future — but find themselves struggling to make the “right decision”, torn between independence and familiarity, and adjusting to a world more hostile than they’d originally hoped.

“You see a real mix of emotions. There’s a lot of excitement, and then reality sets in,” Ross said.

“It was difficult to find work back then — there wasn’t a lot of options in Masterton. Even the traditional pathways were challenging. For example, you could earn good money at the freezing works, but it was seasonal. So, what were you going to do in the off-season?

“A lot of the students struggled with loneliness away from their school community. Others had to make difficult decisions — do they leave home to pursue a career, even if it means leaving their friends and family behind?”

The film also follows the students’ whanau, who shared raw and vulnerable accounts of helping their children navigate the transition.

“The filmmakers developed a real trust and intimacy with the families. It felt very personal — watching it, I felt humbled by their openness.

“It was a tough time for parents. They wanted to help their children make informed decisions while up against some difficult social parameters. They wanted their children to dream big, but knew their options were limited.

“You see them having a lot of robust discussions.”

Ross said screening the film will also be an opportunity for Mākoura alumni to celebrate their school.

Preston chose to film at Mākoura as she considered it was one of the few colleges offering a “balanced education” — supporting students to transition to work, exploring potential career pathways, and organising work experience.

“Some were concerned the film would denigrate Mākoura as a low decile school — but it didn’t at all. In fact, it showed we were more than ‘that other college’ or ‘the school on the wrong side of the tracks’.”

The Wairarapa Film Festival starts on Thursday, May 25. Learning Fast will screen on Saturday, May 27, at Regent3 Cinemas at 3.15pm. For more information, email [email protected]. A full programme is available at http://www.waifilmfest.co.nz. all including Wairarapa actors, directors, screenwriters, musicians, and production crew.

Wairarapa talent on display this year includes Jemaine Clement [voicing an animated sheep], award-winning actor and Rathkeale College old boy Kieran Charnock, a “cleverly-crafted suspense/horror” by Pahiatua-based Derek and Alaina Sims, and an “angry” tale about stolen Māori artefacts by activist filmmaker and Chanel College alum Barry Barclay.

Screenings will be followed by Q&A sessions with cast and crew members — including Preston, who will attend the matinee screening of Learning Fast next Saturday.

Festival organiser Jane Ross, herself a Mākoura College old girl, said the visit from Learning Fast’s now internationally acclaimed crew is still remembered fondly by the Masterton community: “It was like Hollywood had come to town.”

Ross hoped to connect with the seven main cast members, and invite them to the screening: To celebrate both their personal journeys and “the remarkable achievement this film was”.

“It’s still gobsmacking to think these giants of New Zealand cinema were once based in Masterton,” she said.

“It would be amazing to find out what the students have been doing since. But also to give them, and the wider community, an opportunity to see themselves on the big screen. And reflect on how our town was and how we lived back then.

“It’s so important for people to see themselves reflected [in media]. That was a key motivator for Dame Gaylene — New Zealanders weren’t seeing themselves, their places, or their stories represented on screen.

“It’s a key motivator for this festival — to share local stories and inspire local people to tell stories of their own.”

In 1979, Preston, who had just established her first production company, set out to make a film capturing the impacts of unemployment on young people and New Zealand communities.

In Learning Fast, the Mākoura students start off with high expectations for their post-school future — but find themselves struggling to make the “right decision”, torn between independence and familiarity, and adjusting to a world more hostile than they’d originally hoped.

“You see a real mix of emotions. There’s a lot of excitement, and then reality sets in,” Ross said.

“It was difficult to find work back then — there wasn’t a lot of options in Masterton. Even the traditional pathways were challenging. For example, you could earn good money at the freezing works, but it was seasonal. So, what were you going to do in the off-season?

“A lot of the students struggled with loneliness away from their school community. Others had to make difficult decisions — do they leave home to pursue a career, even if it means leaving their friends and family behind?”

The film also follows the students’ whanau, who shared raw and vulnerable accounts of helping their children navigate the transition.

“The filmmakers developed a real trust and intimacy with the families. It felt very personal — watching it, I felt humbled by their openness.

“It was a tough time for parents. They wanted to help their children make informed decisions while up against some difficult social parameters. They wanted their children to dream big, but knew their options were limited.

“You see them having a lot of robust discussions.”

Ross said screening the film will also be an opportunity for Mākoura alumni to celebrate their school.

Preston chose to film at Mākoura as she considered it was one of the few colleges offering a “balanced education” — supporting students to transition to work, exploring potential career pathways, and organising work experience.

“Some were concerned the film would denigrate Mākoura as a low decile school — but it didn’t at all. In fact, it showed we were more than ‘that other college’ or ‘the school on the wrong side of the tracks’.”

The Wairarapa Film Festival starts on Thursday, May 25. Learning Fast will screen on Saturday, May 27, at Regent3 Cinemas at 3.15pm. For more information, email [email protected]. A full programme is available at http://www.waifilmfest.co.nz. In the late 1970s, a team of emerging Kiwi filmmakers based themselves in Masterton. There, they followed a group of teenagers making a hopeful and tumultuous entry into the adult world.

Today, that young film crew are among “the giants of New Zealand cinema” — and that early project is about to be shown in Wairarapa for the first time in several decades.

Learning Fast, one of the first films from eminent director Dame Gaylene Preston, will be one of the headline screenings at the Wairarapa Film Festival, which kicks off in Masterton next week.

The one-hour documentary follows seven Mākoura College students as they made the transition from school to the workforce: Against the backdrop of high unemployment, social upheaval, familial challenges, and unsympathetic politics. The film chronicles the teens’ “big dreams and big dramas” as they grapple to find their place in the “big wide world”.

Preston spent two years in Masterton filming the students and their whanau, accompanied by director of photography Alun Bollinger and sound engineer Lee Tamahori — both of whom went on to illustrious careers in cinematography and film direction.

Though it has been used as a resource in secondary schools throughout New Zealand, Learning Fast has rarely been seen in Masterton since its premiere in 1980 — and has only recently been digistised by the New Zealand Film Archive.

The third annual Wairarapa Film Festival will showcase both short and feature-length films,

all including Wairarapa actors, directors, screenwriters, musicians, and production crew.

Wairarapa talent on display this year includes Jemaine Clement [voicing an animated sheep], award-winning actor and Rathkeale College old boy Kieran Charnock, a “cleverly-crafted suspense/horror” by Pahiatua-based Derek and Alaina Sims, and an “angry” tale about stolen Māori artefacts by activist filmmaker and Chanel College alum Barry Barclay.

Screenings will be followed by Q&A sessions with cast and crew members — including Preston, who will attend the matinee screening of Learning Fast next Saturday.

Festival organiser Jane Ross, herself a Mākoura College old girl, said the visit from Learning Fast’s now internationally-acclaimed crew is still remembered fondly by the Masterton community: “It was like Hollywood had come to town.”

Ross hoped to connect with the seven main cast members, and invite them to the screening: To celebrate both their personal journeys and “the remarkable achievement this film was”.

“It’s still gobsmacking to think these giants of New Zealand cinema were once based in Masterton,” she said.

“It would be amazing to find out what the students have been doing since. But also to give them, and the wider community, an opportunity to see themselves on the big screen. And reflect on how our town was and how we lived back then.

“It’s so important for people to see themselves reflected [in media]. That was a key motivator for Dame Gaylene — New Zealanders weren’t seeing themselves, their places, or their stories represented on screen.

“It’s a key motivator for this festival — to share local stories and inspire local people to tell stories of their own.”

In 1979, Preston, who had just established her first production company, set out to make a film capturing the impacts of unemployment on young people and New Zealand communities.

In Learning Fast, the Mākoura students start off with high expectations for their post-school future — but find themselves struggling to make the “right decision”, torn between independence and familiarity, and adjusting to a world more hostile than they’d originally hoped.

“You see a real mix of emotions. There’s a lot of excitement, and then reality sets in,” Ross said.

“It was difficult to find work back then — there wasn’t a lot of options in Masterton. Even the traditional pathways were challenging. For example, you could earn good money at the freezing works, but it was seasonal. So, what were you going to do in the off-season?

“A lot of the students struggled with loneliness away from their school community. Others had to make difficult decisions — do they leave home to pursue a career, even if it means leaving their friends and family behind?”

The film also follows the students’ whanau, who shared raw and vulnerable accounts of helping their children navigate the transition.

“The filmmakers developed a real trust and intimacy with the families. It felt very personal — watching it, I felt humbled by their openness.

“It was a tough time for parents. They wanted to help their children make informed decisions while up against some difficult social parameters. They wanted their children to dream big, but knew their options were limited.

“You see them having a lot of robust discussions.”

Ross said screening the film will also be an opportunity for Mākoura alumni to celebrate their school, and the well-rounded, progressive learning experience it strove to provide.

Preston chose to film at Mākoura as she considered it was one of the few colleges offering a “balanced education” — supporting students to transition to work, exploring potential career pathways, and organising work experience.

“Some were concerned the film would denigrate Makoura as a low decile school — but it didn’t at all. In fact, it showed we were more than ‘that other college’ or ‘the school on the wrong side of the tracks.’”

The Wairarapa Film Festival will begin on Thursday, May 25. Learning Fast screening will screen on Saturday, May 27, at Regent3 Cinemas, starting at 3.15pm. For more information, email [email protected]. A full programme is available at http://www.waifilmfest.co.nz.

Erin Kavanagh-Hall
Erin Kavanagh-Hall
Erin Kavanagh-Hall is the editor of the Wairarapa Midweek. She has been a journalist for the past 10 years, and has a keen interest in arts, culture, social issues, and community justice.

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