Home' The Wellingtonian : August 11th 2011 Contents 12 THE WELLINGTONIAN, AUGUST 11, 2011
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Reeling in the talent
Lindsay Shelton: ''During the 1990s the Embassy was considered too big and was going to be pulled down.''
Photo: REBECCA THOMSON
talks to New Zealand
Film Festival founder
Lindsay Shelton about
40 years of the festival,
working in the media
and the restoration of
the Embassy Theatre.
Where did your love of film
When I was growing up in
Marton I wasn t allowed to go to
the movies. All my friends would
go to the matinees and I would be
so frustrated, and wanted to go
too. Also there was a wish to make
things happen, to put on a show. A
film festival was a way of doing
When did you arrive in Wel-
I came here to go to university
when I was 17. After a couple of
years of study I decided I wanted
to become a journalist.
What was your first news-
I worked for The Dominion. For
the first year I was a copyhand,
which was the lowest of the low.
Layout was embarrassing back
then. Everything was squashed
into the page. Then I became a
reporter. I was the only reporter
with a car, because I was the Hutt
Valley reporter. That was when
Percy Dowse was mayor. I ve
never had so many doors shut in
my face as by Hutt city council-
What was the newsroom like
I remember the chief proof-
reader would drink bottles of Coca
Cola. One night when he was out
I was thirsty so took a sip and
discovered it was rum! I was later
picked up by the Sydney Morning
Herald and ended up as a foreign
correspondent for The Sydney Sun
What was that like?
I was based in London, in the
1960s, writing about places I
didn t know anything about. The
only resource I had access to was
the Daily Express library and I
don t think that had been updated
since the 1930s.
What did you do when you
returned to New Zealand?
Television was just starting up
when I came back. We would
record the news bulletins in
Broadcasting House and then run
over to the television offices in
Waring Taylor St to air them.
Sound and images were recorded
So what led you to start the
film festival in 1972?
I was working as one of two
television news editors. We had
changed to a seven days on and
seven days off shift, and I was
looking for something to do on my
days off. I was also the program-
mer for the Film Society and dis-
covered there were many films
that were not being shown here. I
decided we could show them if we
had a festival.
How many films were
screened that year?
We lined up seven films to show
over seven days. All the theatres
said no and the film establish-
ment said we didn t have a hope.
It was only thanks to Merv and
Carol Kisby at the Penthouse that
we had a venue. Five thousand
people attended that year. We
thought that was bloody good. For
those first few years Carol used to
take all the bookings for every
screening. She knew the seats
everyone liked and if people lost
tickets she knew where they were
How big is the festival now?
God know how many films
screen a day, but they are
screening at eight venues over two
and a half weeks. There are
150-plus films and about 70,000
people will come along.
Did you ever imagine the
festival would become such a
I don t think we ever thought
that far ahead. We have audience
members who came to that first
screening and have been coming
every year since. What is surpris-
ing is how much Wellingtonians
look forward to it. It s become a
real social event. People come
early [to the films] and stay late
and chat to each other. And we
have the magnificent Embassy
Theatre at the heart of it all.
You were involved in the
restoration of the Embassy
Theatre. How did that come
During the 1990s the Embassy
was considered too big and was
going to be pulled down. Bill
Sheat got a group of us together
and we bought the building and
started to restore it. Peter Jack-
son and Fran Walsh were
involved, too. Wellington City
Council eventually bought it and
finished the restoration.
What was the first film you
It was Two Cowgirls Sitting on
a Cloud, in Bulls. I can t remem-
ber what it was about, though.
Vigil is one of your favourite
New Zealand films. Why?
Vigil is a pure and perfect art
film. Both Vincent Ward s first
two films -- Vigil and Rain of Chil-
dren -- are exceptional films. Vin-
cent benefited greatly from the
film festival. His two short films
State of Siege and In Spring One
Plants Alone screened at the festi-
val. We had a film critic, Kevin
Thomas from the LA Times, here
and he called Ward a genius.
You were the New Zealand
Film Commission's first mar-
keting manager. What was it
like trying to sell our movies
Taking New Zealand films to
the world was great. I d be at film
festivals showing our films and
distributors would want to know
how New Zealand came up with a
genius new director every year.
That was the 1980s. I think it s
much harder now.
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