Gaylene Preston Retrospective Review

Posted Tuesday 01 Nov 2011

Dr Mary Wiles of the Cinema Studies programme and School of Humanties at the University of Canterbury kindly wrote us this summary of the Gaylene Preston Retrospective at Te Papa Tongarewa, the Museum of New Zealand, which was held from 22 to 24 October. "Sponsored by the Cinema Studies programme and the School of Humanities at the University of Canterbury, this event was to have been held at the Christchurch Art Gallery and was cancelled three times in the wake of each successive major earthquake. Mere Boynton, events manager at Te Papa, graciously agreed to host the event, which was subsequently reconceptualized as an earthquake fundraiser. This retrospective did not pretend to provide a comprehensive assessment of the Preston oeuvre but rather featured a selection of Preston's films, focusing exclusively on documentaries and biographical drama. Day one started off with Preston's documentary Earthquake! (2006) which presented the powerful and moving testimonies of survivors of the devastating magnitude 7.8 Napier earthquake of 1931. Preston was available for Q & A following the film, engaging in a lively discussion with the audience. Those present learned that one of the director's future projects could involve a film focused on the rebuild of Napier during the Depression. Later that afternoon, the audience was treated to a screening of the made-for-TV documentary short, Kai Purakau, an intimate film portrait of Booker Prize winner Keri Hulme. Preston describes the second day of the Retrospective as "Mother's and Father's Day" as the two films screened,War Stories Our Mothers Never Told Us and Home by Christmas, present her mother and father's war stories, respectively. The companion films were warmly received, and Preston was on hand to offer her own personal reflections and insights into the filming process. Members of the director's family were present in the audience, most notably her brother Ted Preston, whose early life is the focus of Home by Christmas. Ted is currently working on a memoir that will focus on the "world of Gaylene Preston" and her place within the filmmaking community of New Zealand. Producer Robin Laing joined Preston on the Round Table discussion later that afternoon, which was moderated by Wiles and included Shepard and Harding. The discussion centered on director's auteurist preoccupations, which include the interrogation of documentary form, the interplay of the personal story and the political film, and the use of film as a means to create an oral history. A Master Class with Preston on Monday afternoon was a highlight of the weekend's events. Preston's detailed discussion of the restoration and refurbishment of the mini-series, Bread and Roses, was followed by a premiere screening of the restored film. A catalogue of the exhibition, "Gaylene Preston Film Retrospective," is available, edited by the curator of the Retrospective, Dr Mary Wiles (Cinema Studies, University of Canterbury), and features: color illustrations and brief critical summaries of films screened at the event; essays by Dr Deborah Shepard, author of Her Life's Work: Conversations with Five New Zealand Women and Dr. Bruce Harding (Ngai Tahu Research Centre, University of Canterbury); a piece by Keri Hulme, and a select filmography composed by Dr. Marian Evans. The catalogue is available for purchase from either Dr Mary Wiles,, or from Gaylene Preston . All proceeds from catalogue sales will go to the Christchurch earthquake recovery.


Gaylene Preston at the Retrospective