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Film festival is a real treasure

Local cinephiles will no doubt already have the dates marked in their calendars and inscribed on their hearts, but it may have escaped the notice of other residents that the autumn programme of the Wairarapa Film Festival is almost upon us.

First launched in May 2001, in the midst of the pandemic, the festival – at which every film must have a local connection – has not just survived but thrived, as evidenced by the impressive lineup of 19 events that will run over four days next week [Thursday, May 23 to Sunday, May 26].

The creation of fest director Jane Ross, who also serves as the digital advisor for Masterton District Council, the event was inspired by a recurring experience she’d had since beginning to create partner events with the NZ International Film Festival that involved inviting filmmakers to the Masterton leg of the programme to talk to audiences.

“More often than not, the filmmaker would comment, “Do you know about a film I made in the Wairarapa?’” Ross told the Times-Age.

“It happened too many times to ignore.”

We should all be grateful she didn’t.

In what is a real coup for Ross and local audiences, the centrepiece of next week’s festival programme is a retrospective of four key film works by the singular Vincent Ward, who was born and bred in South Wairarapa – including the first public screenings of his earliest surviving film, ‘Ma Olsen’.

Ross has worked for years to facilitate the restoration of the 15-minute 1977 documentary about a remarkable elderly woman who has a great love of animals and an intuitive understanding of their health, and lives with a menagerie that includes numerous cats, hens, roosters, and sheep in the country outside Greytown.

Now, with the aid of the film preservation team at Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision, and assistance from The Dub Shop and Jackson’s Park Road Post among others, Ross has finally succeeded and ‘Ma Olsen’ will open the festival on Thursday next week as part of a double bill with Ward’s celebrated 1980 doco ‘In Spring One Plants Alone’ about a Tūhoe woman named Puhi and her adult schizophrenic son Nik, which he filmed over the course of a year and a half in remote Te Urewera and went on to win the 1982 Grand Prix at Cinéma du Réel in Paris, and a Silver Hugo at the Chicago Film Festival.

The other Ward films that will be screening are ‘A State of Siege’ – a short feature adapted from a novel by Janet Frame, who approvingly described the result as “a visual poem” – and ‘Rain of the Children’, a 2008 docudrama in which Ward revisits the subject of ‘In Spring One Plants Alone’ to unravel the mystery of Puhi’s past, which had haunted him for 30 years.

But wait, there’s more – Ward will be attending the festival and holding a masterclass for aspiring filmmakers, as well as giving an artist talk and book signing at Te Hūpēnui Greytown Gallery of Contemporary + Fine Art, where there will be a free exhibition of his recent paintings and sculptures.

And that’s only part of what’s on offer. Be sure to check out the full programme in tomorrow’s Times-Age, as well as an exclusive article by Ross about Ward and his work. And then run, don’t walk, to book some tickets – sessions are selling out fast.

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