David Whittet Films Blog
Independent New Zealand Film Production

Royal Mail Celelbrates Lawrence of Arabia

Lawrence of Arabia Royal Mail Stamp

In a series of postage stamps celebrating great British films, the Royal Mail in the UK has recognised Lawrence of Arabia, the first film that I ever saw and the one that started me on my film making journey.

How well I remember my first visit to the cinema and being entranced by this extraordinary film. I recently watched the 50th Anniversary restoration and was captivated anew.

I have to be honest and say that there have been some moments recently, when post production on Rere’s Children has proved so difficult, that I have cursed the day I stepped into that cinema and saw Lawrence. But as I now experience the joy of completing the Amiri & Aroha trilogy and sharing it with the world, I know that I owe Lawrence of Arabia - and David Lean - a great deal more than words can ever express.

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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.

33 Postcards

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What an amazing year this has been at the cinema! Today I saw another truly inspiring film, demonstrating so eloquently the unique power of the film medium.

33 Postcards tells the compelling story of Mei Mei (played by Zhu Lin), a 16 year old Chinese orphan whose life has been transformed by donations from her Australian sponsor Dean Randall (played by Guy Pearce). Dean sends Mei Mei postcards that paint an idyllic picture of his family life. Life changes irrevocably for both Mei Mei and Dean when her orphanage choir travels to Australia to participate in an Australian choir festival.

Mei Mei takes seeks out Dean when she arrives in Australia and discovers the shocking truth. Dean is not the park ranger and family man of his postcards, he is in prison with a manslaughter conviction. Yet for Mei Mei, Dean is still her saviour and her last chance of finding a real family.

At the heart of 33 Postcards is the relationship between Mei Mei and Dean, two lonely souls on the fringe of society. At times it’s a heartbreaking right of passage, with Mei Mei caught up in the criminal underworld and Dean a victim of intimidation in prison, but a deeply rewarding journey.

This is independent film making at its very best.

As a footnote, 33 Postcards won awards at the Melbourne International Film Festival and the Sydney Film Festival. I entered Amiri & Aroha in both these festivals. I feel humbled to have been in competition with such a brilliant film. Congratulations to Pauline Chan and her team for an inspiring piece of creative cinema and a very worthy winner!

Lawrence of Arabia at Cannes

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The new poster for the 50th Anniversary restoration of Lawrence of Arabia which premieres at the Cannes Film Festival this week

My first visit to the cinema as an impressionable teenager was a defining moment in my life. I remember so vividly how that dark and dingy cinema was transformed into the desert and I was spellbound. A truly life changing experience, from that day onwards I knew I had to make films.

Lawrence of Arabia has been my all time favourite film since that first visit to the cinema. I can’t wait to see the new restoration both in the cinema and the long awaited high definition Blu-Ray release.

My life seems to have been taken over by my films recently, especially as the Amiri & Aroha trilogy progresses. With so much of my time tied up with film making, I could be forgiven for cursing the day I entered that cinema, particularly when I see colleagues enjoying their leisure pursuits! But when I experience the joy of competing a film, I know that I owe Lawrence of Arabia - and David Lean - a great deal more than words can express.

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The long awaited release of Lawrence of Arabia on Blu-Ray in a beautifully packaged collector’s edition - coming soon!

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

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Every once in a while, a film comes along which strikes such a chord with our hearts that it instantly gains a place in our all time favourite films. For me today, that film was The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is that all too rare combination of a truly touching story, were you get involved with the characters and care about them, with genuinely heartwarming humour.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel tells the story of a group of British retirees who decide to outsource their retirement to India, which promises to be less expensive and more exotic. Each has their own reason to leave (their back stories are cleverly told in the opening moments of the film) and are enticed by advertisements for the newly-restored Marigold Hotel and look forward to a new life. But the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is not what they expected, the palace is a shell of its former self. The phones don't work, the building is run-down, yet they are forever transformed by their shared experiences, discovering that life and love can begin again when you let go of the past.

Many of the locations in Jaipur and Udaipur are familiar to me as I shot my own film The Tale of the Indian Merchant at the railway station in Jaipur and at the palace in Udaipur.

John Madden’s inspired direction captures the real feel of India, the chaos, the sounds, you can almost smell the spices in Jaipur’s bustling markets. You are right there with the characters.

This is a film to treasure.

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The incomparable Judi Dench with Celia Imrie in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Inspiration from the masters!

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I was privileged to see two wonderful films from two great masters of the cinema during breaks in our shooting schedule this week in Gisborne.

War Horse is Steven Spielberg at his very best, an intimate epic in the mould of The Color Purple and Empire of the Sun. A gripping story, War Horse tells how an impoverished young farmer’s son, Albert enlists to serve in World War I after his beloved horse is sold to the cavalry. Albert's heart wrenching journey takes him out of England and across Europe as the war rages on. Spielberg’s storytelling genius takes you with Albert on this journey, you share his pain, despair and joy at every twist and turn on this extraordinary story. Absolutely unforgettable.

The news that Martin Scorsese was to make a 3D film was greeted with dismay by many fans and intellectual film critics. Hugo certainly marks a new direction for Scorsese, but all the hallmarks of the great director are here in this beautifully crafted story. Set in 1930s Paris, Hugo tells the story of an orphan who lives in the walls of a train station, determined to solve a mystery of an automaton left by his late father, a deeply felt rite of passage. Tremendous to see intelligent use of 3D, a great master of cinema using new technology to push boundaries and further the unique possibilities of the film medium.

These two masterpieces eloquently demonstrate the art of the cinema and reminded me why I love cinema so much - and why I want to make films. Inspiration indeed!

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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

Doctor Zhivago Poster

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.

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.

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