David Whittet's Blog
Family Physician and Film Maker

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Peter Jackson has been explaining his decision to shoot The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey in 3d High Frame Rate.

Sir Peter writes:

We live in a rapidly advancing digital age. Technology is being continually developed that can enhance and enrich the cinema-going experience. High Frame Rate shooting for a mainstream feature film has only become viable in the last year or two, and yet we live in an age of increasing home entertainment. I started shooting The Hobbit films in HFR because I wanted film audiences to experience just how remarkably immersive the theatrical cinema experience can be.

I think HFR is terrific. As a filmmaker, I try to make my movies immersive. I want to draw the audience out of their seats, and pull them into the adventure. That is the experience I hope to offer moviegoers no matter which format they choose at the theatre. While I personally prefer watching The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey in HFR 3D, I can assure you that every format will provide you with an incredible and immersive experience.

Peter’s last sentence says it all. I have seen The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey in all three formats - 3D High Frame Rate, 3D and 2D. What is so spacial about seeing a film likeThe Hobbit in the cinema is not the format but the shared experience that only a cinema can provide. From the intensely electric atmosphere that captivates the entire audience when Gollum appears, to the communal joy when Thorin Oakenshield finally accepts Bilbo Baggins into the company - this can only be experienced as part of a larger audience. This is the real magic of the cinema.

Beethoven for All

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Two of the major influences in my life have come together in an exciting new project.

Ludwig van Beethoven has been a defining force in my life for as long as I can remember.

I believe Daniel Barenboim's vision with the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra to be one of the most genuinely inspiring initiatives of our time. The West-Eastern Divan is a youth orchestra based in Sevilla, Spain, consisting of musicians from countries in the Middle East, of Egyptian, Iranian, Israeli, Jordanian, Lebanese, Palestinian, and Syrian background. The aim of the West-Eastern Divan is to promote understanding between Israelis and Palestinians and pave the way for a peaceful and fair solution of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The west-Eastern Divan Orchestra is proof positive that art can change the world.

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I am delighted that Barenboim and the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra are embarking on the Beethoven for All project. With a world tour crossing four continents and dazzling new recordings, this extraordinary orchestra makes Beethoven accessible to everyone. And who better to spread Beethoven’s timeless message of joy and brotherhood than the orchestra which unites young people from Israel, Palestine and various Arab countries of the Middle East, across political boundaries? Beethoven would have been very proud!

I have just listened to the first release of the series, a new cycle of the nine symphonies. As Barenboim writes: "Let’s face it: the CD market does not need another Beethoven cycle, there are so many wonderful ones... But I think the Beethoven symphonies with the Divan orchestra is, in some ways, different. I would not be so pretentious as to say it is better, but it is certainly different. It is different in the sense that there is a terrific amount of energy (because of the youth of the people), but there is just as much rigour. And the combination of rigour with energy is very powerful. If people get one-tenth of the satisfaction that we had when we played this music by listening to it, then I will be happy.”

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“Beethoven’s music is universal… no matter where in the world – it speaks to all people.” - Daniel Barenboim

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.

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.

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.

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