David Whittet's Blog
Family Physician and Film Maker

Mark stars in Waitaki Valley School Play

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Waitaki Valley School presented their end of year production today with the thought provoking play Home for Christmas. Both Mark and Rebecca had parts in the play and rehearsals have taken up a considerable amount of their time recently. Indeed, Mark learnt his lines for my film Amiri’s Child alongside those for Home for Christmas.

It was an amazingly polished production for a junior school play and I admire tremendously the school’s courage in presenting such a challenging piece of drama. The entire ensemble cast were exceptional, so much talent. I shall remember this for my next casting call.

Mark was a real star today and led the production. Afterwards Mark gave his valedictory speech to the school and had everyone spellbound. A very proud moment.

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Mark giving his farewell speech to Waitaki Valley School

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Rebecca receives an award for good citizenship

Shooting at the Elephant Rocks

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We concluded the Waitaki Valley shoot with a scene at the Elephant Rocks, made famous in the film of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. A short but telling scene as the relationship between the young Arapeta and Miriama begins to develop. The evening light was perfect for this scene with touching performances from Mark and Sophie.

It is my hope that these scenes down at Kurow will expand the canvas of the film and add a new dimension to Amiri’s Chid.

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David Whittet directs Mark Whittet and Sophee Hills in this heart rending scene for Amiri’s Child where Arapeta is at last reconciled with Miriama. The impact of this emotional scene is heightened by the beautiful Elephant Rocks in the Waitaki Valley, deep in North Otago’s rural heartland.

Young Arapeta's key scene

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I had told Mark all along that his key line was in this scene where he wistfully looks to the future. After a lifetime of rejection, Arapeta has at last gained a scholarship and a future. Inspired by the power of a giant hydroelectric dam, he talks to Miriama about his vision of the future.

I have dubbed this sequence Young Arapeta’s Vision. It is significant to the plot development of Amiri’s Child at many levels: the transition between the young and adult Arapeta, the change in the relationship between Arapeta and Amiri and we get the first glimpse of Arapeta’s driven personality and his determination to reach the top.

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Shooting at the Campbell Park Estate

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Today was our first day of shooting in the Waitaki Valley. Sophee Hills, who plays the young Miriama, has flown down with her mother to film these scenes in the South Island with Mark as the young Arapeta.

As these scenes directly follow the shots of Arapeta and Miriama leaving the caravan, which we shot in October, it was vital that costume and appearance were identical. We spent some time prior to leaving for location getting Sophee’s hair exactly right.

Nathan Tompkins, the owner of the Campbell Park Estate, kindly gave us remission to film this iconic castle, which has been home to a number of major films, including The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and more recently Mr Pip.

These were critical scenes between the young Arapeta and Miriama, where Miriama dreams of escape from the confines of the caravan which has been home all her life, and chides Arapeta that he will never be able to buy girl a house like that.

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Rere Reshoot

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The final day of our reshoot was another whirlwind experience!

I have devised a new beginning for Amiri & Aroha with the soothsayer Kōkā appearing out of the waterfall like a mirage, clutching her crystal ball. First impressions are vital and this shot had to be perfect. It took a lot of patience to get the scene exactly right.

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Over successive shoots, I have learnt the impossibility of recording live dialogue at Rere with the thundering noise of the waterfalls, so we went back to Kristel’s house to shoot these scenes with a green screen.

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Kristel working as Mariel’s Dialogue Coach during the green screen work

New scenes for both Amiri & Aroha and Amiri's Child

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One of the great things about reshoots is that enables the addition of new scenes to increase dramatic intensity at key points in the film.

Whilst working on the re-edit of Amiri & Aroha and the rough cut assembly of Amiri’s Child, it was clear that the story needed to emphasize the tension between Aroha and Hunapo and we shot a very dark scene where Hunapo tells her that he will never let go of her and threatens to kill her if she marries anyone else. Shayne found us an atmospheric gangland alleyway which was perfect for the scene.

We also shot the long awaited follow up scene from the teaser at the end of Amiri & Aroha.

Small scenes but with a huge impact on both films.

Back once more to the Gypsy Rose Caravan!

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Today marks the tenth full day we have spent working at the Gypsy Rose Caravan at Morere Hot Springs. The character change from Matakite to Kōkā and associated casting change from Cushla to Mariel has required numerous retakes. The caravan scenes play a vital role in both Amiri& Aroha and Amiri’s Child. Today we are reshooting key sequences between Aroha and Kōkā for the new cut of Amiri & Aroha, concentrating on Mariel Ceballos’ performance as Kōkā. Kristel has done some dialogue coaching with Mariel to give these scenes the dramatic intensity which the story requires.

I have commented before in this blog on the difficulties of shooting such complex scenes in the very confined space of the caravan. Oh to have a budget that would enable us to build a mock up in a studio! Today’s shoot was particularly challenging with heavy traffic noise and lawn mowers necessitating retake after retake! Mariel Ceballos found this particularly distracting and it proved a long and hard day’s shoot!

We remain eternally grateful to Marie Lepper, who owns the Gypsy Rose caravan for letting us take over her caravan on such a regular basis for the shooting. Despite the difficulties of filming, the caravan remains a tremendously atmospheric setting and greatly enhances the film.

Aunt Hinemoa and Arapeta's Cousins

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Principal photography on Amiri’s Child continued today with some of the most technically difficult scenes in the shoot, the scenes with Arapeta and his cousins at Aunt Hinemoa’s house.

The scenes were also especially challenging as we had a large cast with six new characters, Alexandra Christie as Aunt Hinemoa, Willie Grace as Uncle Ben, Warren Philp as the lawyer Lamonge, and three children playing Arapeta’s cousins, all on their first day of shooting. Add to this by now veterans of Amiri’s Child, Mark as young Arapeta and Mariel Ceballos as Kōkā and we had a very full set and with many cast member’s children present, a large audience as well!

The heart of a gangland family is the kitchen and I wanted the scenes to have a gritty reality. This meant working in a very confined space under the extremely hot movie lights, which the children in particular found very difficult. It was a long and tiring day!

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Alexandra Christie as Aunt Hinemoa

Reprising the role of the young Aroha

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Rebecca reprises the role of the young Aroha, but in a more mystic and surreal scene than in the original film. Walking at the Rere falls, she stumbles on the soothsayer’s crystal ball, emanating a bright firelight from under the rocks at Rere. Inside the crystal ball, she sees Kōkā, the soothsayer, seemingly imprisoned within the ball.

It was a much more difficult role for Rebecca than in Amiri & Aroha as she has to talk to an imaginary figure in the crystal ball, as the image of Kōkā will be added in post production. With a complex mix of live action and effects shots, it takes real talent to give a convincing performance.

Another love scene in the waterfall

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A love scene in the Rere falls was a highlight of Amiri & Aroha. Today, Hunapo (Shayne Biddle) reprised the scene for Amiri’s Child with the latest love of his life, Anna.

Hunapo’s son Koriata, the main protagonist of Amiri’s Child would be conceived in the Rere falls. Koriata is Māori for Goliath and Amiri’s Child was originally conceived as a Māori David and Goliath, with a clash of the titans between Hunapo’s son Koriata and Aroha’s son Arapeta.

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Working with Mariel Ceballos as Kōkā, the new soothsayer

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The soothsayer has proved one of the most difficult roles in The Amiri & Aroha trilogy and starting again with a new actress brought its own challenges. It was difficult for Mariel Ceballos to bring her own stamp of identity to a character who had been so closely developed in the previous film. These early days working with Mariel were an opportunity for both of us to determine the path of Kōkā through the trilogy, retaining the best of Cushla’s performance but adding a new dimension from an older, more mature and worldwide soothsayer.

I think Mariel’s greatest contribution to the film was a mystic quality, never more potent than in a witch’s cursing scene which we shot today.

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Recreating an iconic scene

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Get off our land, before I throw you, and your caravan, over the waterfall - Hunapo in Amiri & Aroha

Our decision to substantially reshoot Amiri & Aroha with a new soothsayer meant that today we had to recreate an iconic scene from the original film. The scene where Hunapo threatens to throw the soothsayer and her caravan over the waterfall was one of the most memorable in Amiri & Aroha. Shayne Biddle and Mariel Ceballos faithfully recreated the scene at Rere today for both the new Amiri & Aroha and for a flashback in Amiri’s Child.

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Filming in gangland

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Today’s shoot would be difficult and I was tense as I prepared to film Aroha’s mock trial in gangland. Aroha is punished for bringing a pōririo into gangland, a child born outside the gangland whānau or family. The scene had to be uncomfortably realistic and painful to watch if the real horror of gang rule was to have meaning in the film.

Fortunately, I had a great group of actors as Aroha’s captors and we were able to capture the true terror which Aroha faced, dragged away from her child, tied up and abused by the gang.

Shayne Biddle was brilliant as Hunapo today, a causal indifference to Aroha’s suffering belying a deep sense of guilt that he deserted Aroha in her hour of need. A theme which I will develop further as the trilogy progresses.

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It was a tough shoot and I was relieved when it was all safely in the can!

The Team for Amiri's Child

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The cast and crew for Amiri’s Child at Morere Hot Springs at the beginning of today’s shoot

Today we were back at the Morere Hot Springs to film the scenes at the Gypsy Rose caravan scenes for Amiri’s Child. The soothsayer plays an equally critical role in the second film and we had a very full day’s shooting today. Whilst I had given Sophee some simple scenes to help get her into the role of the young Miriama on the first day of shooting at Rere, today was her big challenge with many of her most crucial scenes. Sophee stepped up to the challenge admirably with a cool professionalism.

I had forgotten just how small the caravan is and how hot it gets in such a confined space on swelteringly hot day! I guess a big budget film maker would make a replica of the caravan in a studio with moveable walls, but as an independent film maker we have no option but to shoot on location!

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Sophee Hills, who plays the young Miriama, on her first big day of shooting today

David and Goliath

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“David ran fearlessly towards the giant Goliath, he put some stones into his sling, and skillfully flung it so that it hit Goliath on the forehead. Goliath fell dead to the ground”. Arapeta, my darling. You must be like David in the story. You must be strong. You must avenge anyone who stands in your way. Be strong. Make Mummy proud of you. Mummy has to go away. Be strong. You must be strong when I have gone away.
- Aroha reading Arapeta a bedtime story in Amiri’s Child

A Māori David and Goliath was the original working title for Amiri’s Child and was the concept I had in mind when I wrote the teaser scene at the end of Amiri & Aroha. Kristel delivered the scene beautifully today. I was close to tears watching the scene behind the camera, but perhaps even more telling is that Kristel’s sister, watching the scene from a corner of the set, was in tears.

Green Screen

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It is impossible to record usable live sound at the Rere falls due to the noise of the waterfall. We therefore needed to mix live action shots at Rere with green screen work in the controlled environment of a green screen studio.

Also, without giving away too many spoilers, for a portion of the film, Kōkā is imprisoned within her crystal ball and this required careful planning to match up live action shots of the young Aroha holding the ball and green screen work of Kōkā within the ball. And if we do our job properly, it all looks seamless on the screen.

Matakite is Dead, Long Live Kōkā!

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Mariel Ceballos as Kōkā, a mystic Māori soothsayer

Matakite, a mystic Māori soothsayer played by Cushla Tangaere, had a very significant role in Amiri & Aroha and I had developed her character to play an equally important role in Amiri’s Child.

Cushla had moved away from Gisborne and was not available to participate in the second film. We toyed with the idea of having an older Matakite in Amiri’s Child and making her the aunt of the original Matakite. But circumstances required more decisive action…

Two separate factors brought about this rethink of the Matakite role. The only negative feedback we received from the premiere came from a Māori lady who was told us that a Matakite does not use a crystal ball and was concerned that we had therefore misrepresented a Matakite. Despite the extensive research I had done for the film, including interviews with Matakites who do use crystal balls, I did not wish to cause offense to anyone and considered renaming the character,

Casting the Matakite had been the most difficult part of Amiri & Aroha and Cushla had stepped in as a favour when the Hobbit factor threatened the survival of our production. As a result, I felt the Matakite was the weakest link of the original film. Cushla did not look old enough to be Aroha’s wise confidante and did not have that other worldly look so important for this part.

Now we had the opportunity not only to recast for the second film but to go back and reshoot the scenes in the first film with a new actor. At the auditions, Mariel Ceballos had impressed me with exactly the right look for the film and real enthusiasm for the part. So we made the brave decision to cast Mariel and reshoot a significant portion of Amiri & Aroha alongside the new film. We renamed the character Kōkā, after the Māori word for astronomer, and removed all reference to Matakite.

Shane Luke as Arapeta

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Kristel Day with Shane Luke at today’s impromptu audition

The one part we had not been able to successfully cast at last nights auditions was the title role of Arapeta Hollis. As Kristel and I went through the audition footage which I had shot last night, we became painfully aware that we had not found our Amiri. Fortunately, Kristel suggested Shane Luke, who had auditioned for another of her productions, Fred Potts’ Tukino. After a quick phone call, we got Shane round for an instant audition and straight away we both knew that he was our Amiri.

Amiri is a difficult role; embittered by life experiences and vengeful over wrongs of the past, he must still engage the audience and earn their empathy.

Auditions for Amiri's Child

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David and Wiz with Mariel Ceballos whom we cast as Kōkā, the mystic Māori soothsayer

Today we held the auditions for the lead parts in Amiri’s Child. The extensive press coverage of last night’s World Premiere of Amiri & Aroha has created huge local interest in the film and the response to the audition call was overwhelming. With Co-producer Kristel Day and Casting Director Walter Walsh supervising, the auditions ran smoothly and we auditioned over 50 actors. So many of the parts we could have filled many times over with the exciting talent we discovered. We were able to immediately cast most of the leads but would need to review the audition footage which I shot throughout the evening for the more difficult decisions. I was determined to be inclusive and to offer smaller parts to those unsuccessful with the lead characters.

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Deborah Valois auditioning for the role of the mediator. Deborah is a master of disguise, playing several parts in Amiri & Aroha and surpassing that with no less than four roles in Amiri’s Child!

World Premiere of Amiri & Aroha

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Kristel Day, David Whittet and Walter Walsh with the awards presented for Amiri & Aroha

Amiri & Aroha received its Gala World Premiere today at the iconic Dome Cinema in Gisborne.

First here was a private screening for the cast and crew and their families and their invited guests. Tia Takarangi Chan sang one of the songs which she had composed for the film prior to the screening. Walter Walsh (the Wiz) was master of ceremonies and presented me with the four awards won in the Best Shorts and Accolade film competitions.

A second public screening was held this evening and Gisborne turned out en masse to support this locally produced independent film. It was a wonderful atmosphere and a tremendous launch for Amiri & Aroha.

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David talks to Alexandra Christie who has a key role as Arapeta’s Aunty in the new film Amiri’s child

First Day of Principal Photography on Amiri's Child

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On the eve of the World Premiere of Amiri & Aroha and after months of preparation, the cameras rolled today for the first time on Amiri’s Child.

Back on location at Rere falls, I shot the opening scenes with Rebecca reprising her role as the young Aroha and introduced Mark and Sophee to their roles of the young Arapeta and Miriama respectively. Some role play and test shots helped Mark and Sophee to get into their parts.

It felt so good to be back at Rere, shooting a new film!

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Steve Jobs 1955-2011

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I was greatly saddened by the passing of Steve Jobs today. Steve has been a major influence on my life in recent years. Steve was a visionary leader with a zealous belief that new technology can make our lives better and bring positive gains for humanity. You will be sadly missed Steve and never forgotten. My sincere condolences to Steve’s family.

A rare opportunity to experience Ryan's Daughter on the big screen again

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This is me circa 1986 at the Schoolhouse set from Ryan’s Daughter

Our weekly trip to Dunedin for the David Lean season continued this week with Ryan’s Daughter.

Ryan’s Daughter is one of those films which over the years has developed a huge cult following and has become one of cinema’s icons. Books have been written on the legendary trials and tribulations of its production, and critical reappraisal has assured it a place as David Lean’s most underestimated film and his undiscovered masterpiece.

Ryan’s Daughter was tremendously influential on me as a young film maker, coming as it did in 1970, whilst I was planning my first film Thursday’s Child.

I am not alone in making a pilgrimage to the locations where this extraordinary film was made. The school house still stands, over 40 years after the film was made!

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Ryan's Daughter at the Rialto David Lean Season

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Ryan’s Daughter was hugely influential on me as a young film maker.

David Lean’s masterpiece was released in 1970, during my last year at school. I was preparing my first film, Thursday’s Child when I first saw Ryan’s Daughter at the Empire Leicester Square in London, at the time said to have had the world’s best 70mm projection. I was spellbound from those opening titles, with dawn breaking over the Irish coast, one moment exquisitely beautiful, the next menacing and threatening, like the opening of a great novel.

Whilst the projection and print quality at the Rialto Dunedin was no match for the Empire Leicester Square, it was wonderful to see this film, with its unparalleled 70mm cinematography, back where it belongs on the giant cinema screen!

No other film, in my view, has so effectively captured nature’s permanence over human frailty.

The Official World Premiere of Amiri & Aroha is set for 9 October 2011

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I am delighted that the official World Premiere of Amiri & Aroha will be held in Gisborne at the iconic Dome Cinema.

The Dome Cinema is a unique venue and has long had a reputation for bewitching its guests. Situated in the heart of New Zealand’s East Cape, where the film was made, the Dome is the prefect location for this gala event. The Best Shorts and Accolade award statuettes will be presented at the premiere.

Immediately following the premiere, principal photography will commence on
Amiri’s Child.


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A Successful Netball Season for Rebecca

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Rebecca concluded her very successful netball season with an award for the most improved player. This has been tremendous for Rebecca and a wonderful start to her life down here in Kurow. Congratulations Rebecca!

Doctor Zhivago at the Rialto David Lean Season

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The Rialto David Lean season in Dunedin continued this week with Doctor Zhivago. Often glibly dismissed as Lean’s most commercially successful work, today’s screening emphasized to me that Doctor Zhivago is an immensely personal and powerful piece of cinema. Contrasts abound; Lean shot the love scenes harshly and the war scenes romantically. Contrary to those glib put downs by the critics, Lean gives us striking characters in a gripping plot. It would perhaps be surprising to those critics that Lean in fact initially wanted to film Doctor Zhivago in black and white for stark effect. Yet Lean clearly felt there was more he wanted to do with Zhivago, even in the last days of his life he talked about his wish to remake Doctor Zhivago.

World Cup Fever hits Kurow

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We are all very proud in Kurow that All Blacks Captain Ritchie McCaw comes form Kurow and played his first rugby with the Kurow Rugby Club.

In honour of the All Black’s success in the Rugby World Cup, in place of Kurow’s traditional straw family, we have our own special tribute from “Ritchie McCaw Country”.

Pre-production for Amiri's Child

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Pre production is an immensely exciting time, when dreams and visions become reality.

Amiri’s Child is now taking shape and is on schedule for shooting in October together with the World Premiere of Amiri & Aroha at the iconic Dome Cinema in Gisborne. I am again working closely with my two key collaborators from Amiri & Aroha, my co-producer Kristel Day and Casting Director Walter Walsh (The Wiz).

I think we have a wonderful script and Amiri’s Child promises to be an exciting development of the Amiri & Aroha story. It is a huge challenge to shoot a feature length film in a two week period, but then Kristel, Wiz and I are used to working cinematic miracles!

Father's Day and Lawrence of Arabia

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What a special father’s day treat for me, the chance to see Lawrence of Arabia, my all time favourite film again on the big screen, the film that started my film making journey…

The Rialto Cinema David Lean season started in Dunedin today and could not have been a more perfect father’s day gift for me. David Lean and Lawrence of Arabia have been such an important part of my life and a huge influence on my work.

Mark was really excited to come with me to see Lawrence of Arabia today. Like so many young people today, Mark was used to seeing the David Lean films on television through DVD and video. This was the first time Mark had seen a film in the cinema with an overture and an intermission. It was marvelous to watch Mark transfixed by this wonderful film, just as I had been all those years ago as an impressionable teenager.

I wrote about my discovery of cinema through Lawrence of Arabia for an occasional series on favourite films in Movie Maker magazine in the mid 1980s.
Read my article My Favourite Film reprinted from the December 1984 issue of Movie Maker here.

David Lean Season at the Rialto Cinema

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The opportunity to see David Lean’s final four films again on the big screen is a dream come true for me. It was Lawrence of Arabia which ignited my lifelong passion for cinema as an impressionable teenager. The impact of these four masterpieces on my film making has been immense. I was really sad when I saw that the four films were screening in a David Lean season in Auckland earlier this year and there was no way with all my commitments that I could get to see them. What joy that the season has now come to the Rialto Dunedin and I will be able to see all four films on the big screen as Lean had intended. Young people are so used to seeing these films on DVD and video, but nothing can compare with their power in the cinema.

Walking into the beautifully atmospheric Rialto cinema in Dunedin this afternoon to watch Lawrence of Arabia was just like my first visit to the cinema as a teenager, I was transfixed as that beam of light from the projection room lit the screen and the magic of this wonderful film had me captivated once more. This is cinema at its very best and something which television or video can never capture.

Rebecca is player of the day again!

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Another very proud day for me as Rebecca was player of the day again for the Kurow netball team for the second time in this season. Rebecca has developed tremendously as a netball player and her teamwork and performance today was excellent. A well deserved award.

An Update on My Project to Develop Family Medicine in Rural Cambodia

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My project to develop family medicine in rural Cambodia is at an exciting stage. After a number of delays and false starts, I am eager to progress the project as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, we lost some key people early in the project who have been difficult to replace. I am now working on recruitment of a local team of health professionals to staff the fledgling project. Happily this is now starting to come together. The people in the project area are well below the absolute poverty level and their need is desperate. I do not want to lose any more time getting the work underway.

A Photographer's Paradise!

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Armed with my Canon Digital SLR Camera, I set out to capture something of the magic of the winter wonderland that is all around us in Kurow. Today was the best of winter, polar blast has eased, leaving a sharp crisp today with a beautiful blue sky. This seems to be so typical of winter days in Kurow.

I headed up Cattle Creak Road to the Awakino Ski-field and came home with a portfolio of stunning images.

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Polar Blast

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A polar blast has New Zealand within its grips, with record snow falls throughout the country. Kurow has been remarkably shielded from environmental extremes this winter but could not escape the force of the current cold snap.

Rural general practice is particularly susceptible to the problems of such severe weather. My practice at Kurow extends over a huge and remote area, including the Lindis Pass which is over two hours drive from Kurow. With roads blocked by snow and treacherous in the ice, getting to patients in their hour of need can be a tremendous challenge.

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Ooy and Rebecca made the most of the snow, creating a very chic snowman in our front garden! Coming from a hot country like Thailand, Ooy is always thrilled to see the snow.

How a family evening watching a Blu ray movie became a night class at film school!

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How does a family evening watching a Blu-Ray disc become a night class in film making? By turning on the director’s commentary!

Today’s DVD’s and Blu-Ray discs, with their extensive behind the scenes material and director’s commentaries are essential learning material for up and coming film makers and a valuable if unofficial film school. The extended versions of The Lord of the Rings trilogy included appendices which charted the making of the films in extraordinary detail. Whilst watching King Kong tonight, Peter Jackson’s director’s commentary I picked up so many valuable tips, including an important consideration for Amiri’s Child: Peter Jackson always has his principal cast available for a week during post production to reshoot any scenes which are not working in the editing. This would be extremely valuable for my work and something I hope to adopt, starting with Amiri’s Child.

The Ultimate Film School

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As a young film maker, judges comments in film competitions were like an unofficial film school for me. I had entered Movie Maker magazine’s Ten Best Amateur Films of the Year competition every year since my first film Thursday’s Child. The Ten Best judges’ comments were always perceptive and a valuable yardstick of my progress. The judges’ encouragement and constructive critiques were very bit as valuable as a film school.

Sadly, the Movie Maker Ten Best competition is no longer with us, but I have greatly appreciated judge’s comments and audience feedback from the international festivals where Amiri & Aroha has been screened. But whilst watching the Blue-Ray disc of King Kong with my children this evening, it occurred to me that there is a new and amazing educational tool readily available to aspiring film makers: the extensive behind the scenes material and director’s commentaries on today’s DVD’s and Blu-Ray discs.

After watching the extended version of King Kong tonight with the children, we watched it again with Peter Jackson’s commentary. Discussing his methods of working with co-writer Phillipa Boyens, Peter Jackson commented on how they put a clause into all their principals actors contract for them to be available for at least a week during post production so that any scenes which are not working in the editing suite can be re-shot. Although this is not so easy for the independent film maker, relying on goodwill from cast and crew, I will endeavor to ensure that the cast for Amiri’s Child will be available for retakes during the post production period.

PRIME at Benmore

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PRIME (Primary Response in Medical Emergencies) continue to on of the most challenging aspects of my work at Kurow, but also one of the most rewarding. There can be few situations where one has such an opportunity to make a difference to someone else’s life.

Medicine and Literature

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In my last post, I commented on how well family medicine and film making have worked together for me. Perhaps more universally acknowledged is the link between literature and medicine, with many physicians having made their name as writers.

That illustrious list includes A J Cronin, who was a significant influence in my desire to become a doctor. I was particularly inspired by his novel The Citadel, the story of a mining company doctor's struggle to balance scientific integrity with social obligation. This book was directly responsible for the change to a health care system which was available for all, with the inception of Britain’s National Health Service.

Getting down to work on the novel of Amiri & Aroha is now a top priority for me. I have mapped out the structure in my head, including a number of intriguing story lines that I was unable encompass in the films. I must organize some protected time to develop these ideas and write the novel!

Family Medicine and Film Making

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As proof positive that family medicine and film making complement each other perfectly, a house visit to a patient this week resulted in a new scene for Amiri’s Child. My visit was to the Campbell Park Estate at Otekaieke, some 15 km from Kurow. As I approached this majestic stately building, it reminded me of Hatter’s Castle in the A J Cronin novel. There was an eerie, mysterious quality to this elegant mansion, isolated in the middle of nowhere. This would make wonderfully atmospheric location for my new film.

As I drove home from the visit, images flooded my mind. The young Arapeta, the main character in Amiri’s Child, is playing with his childhood friend Miriama. Out on a walk one day they come across this seemingly deserted mansion and start to explore the grounds. But who is this mysterious figure hidden in one of the attic windows? And why does he send his henchmen to scare Arapeta and Miriama away? Why is Arapeta’s aunty so angry when she discovers he has been playing there? Why are the local people so frightened by the madman who live in the castle?

This promises to add a dramatic and powerful layer to the story of Amiri’s Child.

Interestingly, the Campbell Park Estate has previously hosted film units and was the base for The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe during the shooting at the nearby Elephant Rocks.

Amiri & Aroha wins two more International Awards in the Accolade Competition!

Accolade Laurel

We have won another two prestigious awards in international competition. Amiri & Aroha has an Award of Merit in two categories in the Accolade Competition, for Short Film and for Concept.

According to the Competition organizers, “Awards go to those filmmakers, television producers, videographers and new media creators who produce fresh, standout productions. It is a showcase for cinematic gems and unique voices. The Accolade recognizes producers, established and emerging, who demonstrate exceptional achievement in craft and creativity. Undiscovered and first-time producers are often recognized.

“It’s a given that filmmakers want to gain as many viewers as possible. The Accolade is an award well known to buyers and distributors. Winning an Accolade gives buyers and distributors the confidence that your production is of high quality. The Accolade is an award recognized for its rigorous evaluation process.

“This competition is designed to help winners achieve the recognition and viewers they deserve. Accolade staffers frequently share distribution ideas and industry contacts that help promote the careers of the winning filmmakers. The Accolade helps generate publicity and buzz. The Accolade has a strong online presence and shines the spotlight on top winners at The Accolade website and via press releases to a list of over 25,000 industry professionals.”

Film Making: A matter of life and death?

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Film making is not a matter of life and death - it’s far more important than that!

This quotation, immensely popular amongst film makers, seems especially appropriate for me at present! Just as I am beginning to get my life back after the completion of Amiri & Aroha and reclaim some time for my other projects, my next film threatens to take over!

Who was it said that success was a double-edged word? Certainly, the success of Amiri & Aroha in international competition has both inspired me and propelled me into the next production. My head is buzzing with the storyline of Amiri’s Child, the next chapter in the Amiri & Aroha trilogy and a companion piece to Amiri & Aroha. I believe I have another really compelling story in my mind and I have been battling to get this down on paper and shape the script.

Film making is an all consuming passion and the creative impulse is a very hard force to resist...

Life gained, life lost

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I feel I am just beginning to get my life back after the completion of Amiri & Aroha, which has so dominated the past eighteen months!

I have reclaimed some more family time to explore the wonderful Waitaki Valley, which is so spectacular with the bright crisp winter days we have been having recently. I have also been able to give more time to my project to develop family medicine in Cambodia, making preparations and video conferencing with potential supporters.

Who was it said that success was a double-edged word? Certainly, the success of Amiri & Aroha in international competition has both inspired me and propelled me into the next production. My head is buzzing with the storyline of Amiri’s Child, the next chapter in the Amiri & Aroha trilogy and a companion piece to Amiri & Aroha. I believe I have another really compelling story in my mind and I have been battling to get this down on paper and shape the script.

The creative impulse is a very hard force to resist...

Read more about the first recce for Amiri’s child on the Amiri & Aroha official blog.

Stranded in the Snow in Dunedin!

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We had decided to make the Peer Group meeting at the Otago Peninsula into a family weekend in Dunedin. As we indulged in some retail therapy at the Meridian Shopping Mall on Sunday morning, the snow suddenly start to fall and the northern motorway out of Dunedin was closed. In an amazingly short space of time, the snow brought Dunedin to a standstill and the roads impassable.

With this came the realization that we would be unable to get home and we were forced to spend another two nights in Dunedin. But every cloud has a silver lining and Ooy, Mark and Rebecca had a wonderful time playing in the snow!

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Peer Group Meeting on the Otago Peninsula

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I belong to a rural Peer Review Group and we meet by teleconference every month. This is a tremendously important for rural general practitioners, providing professional and collegial support. In addition to our teleconferences, we have face to face and social meetings and today we met at Penny Kagan’s house on the Otago Peninsula. This provides an opportunity to get to know each other and our families.

After a Continuing Medical Education (CME) session on domestic violence we had a shared lunch and an energetic walk oner the Otago Peninsula to Lanarch Castle with Penny as our guide.

It is a beautiful setting and the views from Penny’s house are magnificent.

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First Recce for Amiri's Child - the next chapter in the Aroha Trilogy.

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Inspired by the success of Amiri & Aroha in the Best Shorts competition, I have started work on my next production, Amiri’s Child.

Nothing seems to speak louder than awards in Hollywood, and since the press release for the Best Shorts competition, I have received many offers to buy the script and the concept of Amiri & Aroha. Despite some very significant offers, I have resisted the temptation to sell out as I want to develop the characters and progress the story into the Amiri & Aroha Trilogy, which will consist of three companion films, and I want to write a novel covering the entire story.

I have just completed the first draft of the script for Amiri’s Child. The film will follow on directly from the teaser at the end of Amiri & Aroha and tell the story of Arapeta, Amiri and Aroha’s son.

Since moving to Kurow, I have been inspired by the powerful hydroelectric dams in the Waitaki Valley and believe that they will provide a dramatic background for the new film. Arapeta proves a true son of his father and a powerful businessman; struggle in the power industry seems a natural extension of Amiri’s conquest of the water bottling industry at Rere…

Today we made our first recce for Amiri’s Child, scouting locations and making some test shots. There is a tremendous excitement when pre-production gets started and dreams gradually turn to reality...

Waitaki Valley in Winter

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The Waitaki Valley has a special magic in wintertime, especially on a crisp and clear day like today. With the hectic pace of life recently, it has been hard to find the time to truly explore the region as we had planned when we first came to Kurow! Even today’s family outing had an ulterior motive, a recce to look at possible locations for my next film...

But there was time during the day to be still and reflect on the majesty of the snow clad mountains and the vast lakes. Both my children have developed a keen interest in photography and it is great to see them honing their skills with such magnificent scenery!

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See our Waitaki Valley in Winter Photo Gallery.

Mark's Speech

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I took time out from work at lunchtime to watch Mark give his speech at Waitaki Valley School today. The speeches are an extremely important part of the school curriculum and Mark has been working really hard on his presentation on alien life in the universe.

Mark delivered his speech brilliantly, engaging the audience with both humor and passionate argument. I was so proud of Mark as I listened to his speech and saw how much the audience were enjoying it.

Mark won the award for the Year 8 Individual Speech Competition. So many people told me afterwards how much they had appreciated Mark’s speech, one even suggested he was a Prime Minister in the making!

Mark Speech Award

As a footnote, Mark went on to represent Waitaki Valley School in the regional schools competition, held in Oamaru on 1 July 2011. He won third place in the region, a tremendous achievement.

Rebecca is Player of the Day

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Rebecca has had a great week. On Friday she won an award in the regional schools BP Challenge for innovative design.

Then on Saturday, Rebecca was today’s Kurow Netball Team captain and was awarded player of the day.

Congratulations, Rebecca!

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Elephant Rocks

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Life has been so hectic recently, with the completion of Amiri & Aroha and the excitement of our Best Shorts competition success, that we have not had the chance to explore the Kurow area as we had planned when we arrived here in January. With the Queen’s Birthday long weekend off duty, we set out to explore the beautiful Waitaki Valley.

High on our list was a visit to the Elephant Rocks near Duntroon. This magnificent site was used as the location for Aslam’s camp in Andrew Adamson’s film of The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. The location has so much atmosphere; you can almost feel the presence of Aslam and the White Witch hiding behind the rocks!

It is wonderful news that Andrew Adamson is returning to our district to shoot his new film Mister Pip in Oamaru in August. This is great news for Oamaru and the Waitaki region. I do hope to have the opportunity to see this great director at work.

Andrew Adamson, who brought us Shrek as well as The Chronicles of Narnia, is a Kiwi icon and something of an unsung hero. It will be great to have him back home in New Zealand. Regarding Mister Pip, Adamson says he started chasing the rights for the book immediately after reading it. "I read it on a flight back to LA and I actually got to the other end and started chasing the rights. It's about the power of imagination, about the power of story. It's about the power of being able to use your imagination to overcome obstacles."

I am really looking forward to Mister Pip.

Amiri & Aroha Wins Award at the Best Shorts Competition

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We have won an Award of Merit award in the prestigious Best Shorts Competition for Amiri & Aroha.

The Best Shorts is an awards competition that recognizes the achievements of short filmmakers worldwide. This is a fantastic result for us, bringing the film to a much wider audience and providing exposure in the key Hollywood market. The Best Shorts competition team are really dedicated to promoting the film careers of their award winners.

I received a delightful letter from the Competition Chairperson, Dr Thomas Baker, who wrote: “You can be justifiably proud of winning Best Shorts honors. The judging standards are high and winning means the craft and creativity exhibited by your entry is outstanding and stands above other productions.”

Read the Press Release.

Official Opening of Waitaki Valley School

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Today was a most important for our community, with the official opening of the Waitaki Valley School.

We are so fortunate to have such a wonderful school here at Kurow, with a state of the art building which was formally opened today. But it is the people that make it such a tremendous school and it has been a pleasure to see how everyone has gone out of their way to make Mark and Rebecca feel at home in their new school.

One gem from the speeches that I will not forget: the Mayor asked the children why we have two ears but only one mouth - because we need to listen more than we need to speak!

If it was an important day for the community, it was an especially proud day for me as Mark was chosen to speak at the ceremony and introduce the children’s songs. So many people commented on how well he spoke, that he took his time and looked at the audience whilst he was speaking. I felt so proud of him.

Getting Organized for the Project

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My life over the past couple of years has been taken over by production of my film Amiri & Aroha. Now that the film trilogy is nearing completion, it is time to progress my project to develop family medicine in rural Cambodia.

Things have been going on in the background during my hectic shooting schedule. I have been in email contact with key team members in Cambodia and have been video conferencing with the Cambodian professors of general practice who will be leading the project. Our next task is to develop a time frame for the project. The first stage is to develop a network of mobile community clinics to enable immediate access to those in greatest need with minimal set up costs. I will be reporting on progress over the next few weeks.

PRIME Call at the Kurow Bridges

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One of the excitements - and challenges - of my new work at Kurow is responding to PRIME (Primary Response in Medical Emergencies) calls. No amount of training can prepare you for the adrenaline rush when the PRIME pager goes off!

Today we had two PRIME calls, both requiring the rescue helicopter. I was called to a boating accident at the Kurow bridges where a boatsman had crashed into the bridge and sustained chest injuries.

Sharing Amiri & Aroha - Authoring the DVD

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Authoring and mastering a DVD or Blu-ray disc is almost a production in its own right, requiring storyboarding of the menus and sequences of film specially edited for the DVD menus.

For Amiri & Aroha this afforded a special opportunity. My original idea was to have Tia’s music as a waiata, drawing the audience into the film. I have edited music video style sequences for each of the menus on the DVD, so that Tia’s waiata is playing in the background as soon as the DVD loads in the player and whenever a menu is selected. The perfect way to draw the audience into the film!

The film clip in today’s podcast video is the sequence I edited for the main DVD menu.

Amiri & Aroha has taken over my life!

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Work on Amiri & Aroha is still dominating my time to the exclusion of my other projects!

I had thought that once the final cut was complete, I would be able to relax a little and progress some of my other work. The Cambodia project has been on the back burner for a while.

I seem to be as busy now in marketing as I was making the film! Making copies of the film and sending them to film festivals around the globe, producing promotional films and trailers, preparing press kits for the festival committees, this has all taken it toll on my time! Our house has turned into a DVD and Blu-Ray production house as I mass duplicate the film for festival entries, my calendar is filling up with festival deadlines and I am forever parcelling up viewing copies for the international courier!

Fine Tuning for Film Festival Screenings

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Most film festivals accept entries as a work in progress and understand that some further editing and fine-tuning of the film will be required before the festival screening.

It is now two months since those hectic all night editing sessions to complete the film in time for the competition deadlines. This has given me a chance to reflect on the film and sharing it with audiences has provided some new insights. Editing a special version for the Worldwide Short Film Festival also demonstrated areas where tightening the editing will strengthen the film.

I have concentrated on enhancing three principal sequences: the protest march montage, the introduction to the Marae ceremony, and Matakite's revelations superimposed on her crystal ball.

In today's podcast video, you can see a rough cut for my revision of the sequence, which introduces the scene at the Marae where Aroha and Hunapo are pledged to each other in a tattooing ceremony.

A key change is restoration of the scene where Maahanga, Hunapo's father, curses both the families for the arranged marriage; he is a lone dissenting voice at the celebrations.

Swimming Tuna

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Mark was very excited to have his painting Swimming Tuna displayed in the Kurow Art Exhibition this weekend.

Mark’s picture was exhibited at the exhibition as the best work of his class at Waitaki Valley School.

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House Captain

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Mark and Rebecca have made a tremendous start at their new school.

Mark has been appointed both House Captain and School Traffic Safety Team Officer which is a wonderful achievement for him. I am very proud of him!

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Entry to the World Wide Short Film Festival

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Today I shipped our entry to the Canadian Film Centre’s Worldwide Short Film Festival which is held in Toronto in May/June 2011.

The festival requires entries to be no longer than 40 minutes, so I had to create a specially edited version of the film for this competition, shaving 7 minutes from the running time. Whilst this presented some difficult challenges, some areas were definitely improved by tightening the editing and I will bring these changes to the full length version.

The Worldwide Short Film Festival is a prestigious competition and a pathway to the Hollywood Oscars. Shortlisted films in the festival receive consideration for a nomination for the Academy Award for the Best Short Film.

Amiri & Aroha arrives on the Internet Movie Data Base (IMDb)

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Following our successful submission to the Los Angeles International Film Festival, Amiri & Aroha was today added to the Internet Movie Data Base (IMDb). This is a very significant milestone for a film maker.

The homepage for Amiri & Aroha can be found here:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1822163/

A New School for Mark & Rebecca

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Mark and Rebecca have their first day at their new school today, the Waitaki Valley School.

The past few weeks have been a challenge for me, settling in to a new job. Now Mark and Rebecca face a similar learning curve with their new school and new friends.

Introduction to the Cambodia Project Podcast

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I am most grateful to Wonca for supporting this project to develop family medicine for an area of extreme need in Rural Cambodia.

The project developed following my previous work in rural India, which was also supported by a Wonca Foundation Award.

Following successful completion of the Orissa project, a number of Cambodian professors of general practice approached me about using the same model for Cambodia. We developed an infrastructure for family medicine in Orissa, starting with open air clinics to reach a maximum number of people with minimal set up costs, which we believe will also be an effective starting point in Cambodia.

This “podcast” will bring you regular updates on the project and through photos, video and audio I hope it will provide a true flavour of our work!

Death of a Dedicated Maniac

"Say cheese" - Eddie Fowlie photographs David Lean

Good films can only be made by dedicated maniacs - David Lean

It was with great sadness that I learnt of the passing of Eddie Fowlie today, on the eve of publication of his memoirs David Lean’s Dedicated Maniac - Memoirs of a Film Specialist.

Eddie Fowlie was one of the last surviving members of David Lean’s Dedicate Maniacs, the faithful band of film makers who helped the great director achieve his elusive vision. Eddie also became on of David Lean’s closest personal friends.

Perhaps Eddie Fowlie will be best remembered for creating the Russian winter in a Spanish summer for Doctor Zhivago, creating vast snowy landscapes using tons of crushed white marble dust. Or perhaps even more remarkable, creating the idyllic woodland setting for the love scene in Ryan’s Daughter inside an old barn!

Your work lives on Eddie, in these magnificent films.

Eddie Fowlie's Memoirs

Exploring Kurow and the Waitaki Valley

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We have been looking forward to exploring Kurow and the Waitaki Valley since our visit last September and with our first weekend here we haven’t wasted any time. For me it was a voyage of rediscovery, driving trough the valley from Kurow, past the mighty hydroelectric dams and the lakes to Otematata and Omarama and on to Twizel and the high country. It felt like coming home...

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Salmon Fishing in Twizel!
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Ooy and Mark exploring the High Country Salmon Farm between Omarama and Twizel. Waitaki Valley promises to be a culinary delight!

Our Arrival in Kurow

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A New Year and a new beginning...

Kurow’s renowned Straw Family greeted us as we arrived in Kurow today. I remember taking photographs of this icon of the Kurow summer when I first came here in January 1995.

Kurow has drawn me back after all these years and today marks an exciting new start for both me professionally and for my family.

Sixteen years on, little seems to have changed as we explored Kurow.

It feels good to be back in Kurow and I look forward to the challenges ahead.

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Our Last Night in Gisborne

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This weekend will be unforgettable for many reasons...

Last night, New Year’s Eve, we had the first private preview of Amiri & Aroha with our special friends Margaret Thorpe and Derek Allen. It felt almost unreal to see my film on the screen, it has been a dream for so long.

But by far the happiest aspect of the private screening was how much my wife Ooy enjoyed the film. This was so important to me, especially as our life as been turned upside down by the film and Ooy never once complained. Indeed, Ooy really appreciated being involved in film, playing a wedding guest on the final day of shooting.

Today marked our last night in Gisborne after nearly sixteen years. We celebrated in style at Fettuccine Brothers Italian Restaurant. I took a moment to reflect on how many milestones and special occasions we have celebrated at Fettuccine’s during our time in Gisborne.

Every year since the New Millennium, we have spent the evening of New Year’s Day at the Gisborne First Day, First Night celebrations, culminating in a dramatic fireworks extravaganza. There was a definite feeling of saddens for our last firework display in Gisborne!

Click here to see our album of this special night