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Stories in the courthouse

The Old Courthouse in Carterton once resounded with the banging of the gavel passing sentence.

Now it has the sound of clapperboards resounding across its walls, with two award-winning documentary filmmakers creating a temporary film studio for anyone wanting to make a personal film about their life’s journey.

The idea stems from 2014 when Carterton local Sean Woollgar was documenting the colourful life of his partner’s 91-year-old grandmother.

Woollgar recalls: “Lorna had incredible stories to tell, from growing up during the Depression to working in the army on radar during World War II.”

Unfortunately, Woollgar was unable to complete the interviews, as Lorna died before filming was concluded.

“I was struck by the tremendous loss of all the precious stories that remained undocumented and wanted to do something about it.”

Teaming up with a fellow filmmaker, Phil Stebbing from Masterton, they have created a new business venture called Moving Portraits, giving the opportunity for people in Wairarapa to lay down on celluloid the important events that shaped their life.

Stebbing recalls the impetus behind wanting to join the project: “I used to love watching the TV show This is Your Life and it occurred to me, why should it just be celebrities who have their life immortalised – we can do the same thing for anybody by making a personalised film for them.”

At a recent film shoot, Helen Dew [86] was interviewed and recounted her life story of growing up in Carterton, bringing up four children, creating sustainable gardening projects in Carterton and riding to the local dance on a bicycle in her ball gown.

“The filming process was relaxed, with the filmmakers helping me recall all the stages of my life including the memories that I had half-buried and forgotten, but which I wanted to leave for my grandchildren.”

Dew’s son, Paul, who was at the filming noted: “Years ago I started a family tree and a lot of the historical facts you can get are just still photographs, but it doesn’t tell you much. This is a very important thing to do, so you can actually see the person and hear their life story.”

With ultra-definition cameras and using their skills in cinematography, the Moving Portraits team have created their own stylistic vision.

“We want to present people in the best possible way using classic lighting, like the Old Dutch Masters of painting did, such as Vermeer and Rembrandt,” Woollgar said.

Retired project manager Alan Williamson, who also stepped into the limelight for a Moving Portrait remarked: “We talk about writing a whole autobiography, or writing stories to pass on, but this really is a whole different level, hopefully the kids will see what the old fellow was like. Yeah, great process, great experience.”

Woollgar is keen to point out it is not a frightening experience.

“We have done hundreds of interviews and work hard to ensure people are comfortable and they are treated like stars. At any time, they can stop and of course it is completely private for family and friends only to see.”

Stebbing added: “Someone may want a simpler film with an interview and photographs to leave a legacy, others may want a longer film with other family members and perhaps a family get together they leave as an heirloom for future generations.”

Moving Portraits is offering a special 10 per cent off for bookings before Christmas, with filming in the New Year. Visit www.movingportraits.nz, call 027 305 1382 or email [email protected]

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