The Press Online
November 8, 1999

Hollywood of the South?
Hans Petrovic

Tinsel Town of the South. Potential base of a multi-million-dollar film industry. Centre of cinema activity.

These are titles that have been vaguely bandied about for Christchurch over the years but - except for a handful of people who have taken the notion seriously - it has usually been looked upon as a romantic pie in the sky.

The vast majority of film and television production takes place in Auckland. Peter Jackson's base for his epic Lord of the Rings project is Wellington, and that is also where the Avalon studios are. This year's most successful New Zealand film, Scarfies, was made in Dunedin on a $1.5 million budget.

If overseas film-makers come to the South Island, they are perceived to be making a beeline for Queenstown.

This is not entirely true, of course, for Jackson made his last two feature films, Heavenly Creatures and The Frighteners, around Christchurch. You might also have noticed the occasional Indian film crew in town.

But such sporadic activity does not seem to have brought any permanent film-making activity to Christchurch, despite the city's unused facilities and talent, and despite vague rumblings, a few years ago, about setting up a film studio in the Heathcote Valley.

The possibility of making the city a base for a movie industry was raised again seriously last month during the night-time shooting of a $67,500 short film in the streets of Christchurch.

The occasion was the shooting of producer-director David Reid's 14-minute film, a black-comedy-thriller entitled A Quiet Night, for which Worcester Street was blocked off between Manchester Street and Cathedral Square for 12 hours. Filming continued on later nights in Linwood, Waltham, Lyttelton, and Woolston.

Christchurch Mayor Garry Moore says that attracting film production to Christchurch has always been on the list of things he would like to do as mayor.

"I hope that this film will pave the way to having locally produced feature films and building a stronger film industry in our city.

"One of the things we have got over Wellington is fantastic scenery very close by. I am very keen to promote Christchurch as a film-industry base. It just needs somebody to crystallise it."

Of course, $67,500 for a short film is only peanuts compared to the multi million-dollar budgets required for feature films. Reid, however, hopes the successful completion of his short film will lead to bigger things.

"I hope to be making a feature within 24 months, for which the commission may grant between $500,000 to $1.5 million."

Is this all wishful thinking or is there a real chance for a future Christchurch film industry? Surprisingly, there is a lot of behind-the-scenes activity going on right now with precisely this goal in mind.

Danny Gresham, a project adviser with Community Employment, a government agency for developing new employment and enterprises, has been to Twizel assessing the economic boost and amount of work that the multi million-dollar American production, The Vertical Limit, starring Chris O'Donnell, has brought to the region.

"We are not talking of pie in the sky but of something that is happening right now," Mr Gresham says.

"The United States, India, and other Asian countries are looking for new picture locations and, of course, New Zealand is on their shopping list."

Their demands are simple: "They want pristine locations with blue skies and clean air. They also need co-ordination of local services, information, and servicing. If we provide this, I am sure we can attract these people to the Canterbury area."