Lab deal gives rare Kiwi films new life

MICHELLE DUFF
Last updated 08:45 28/06/2013
Park Road Post, rare NZ film
CHRIS SKELTON/Fairfax NZ

EXCITEMENT'S REEL: Park Road Post general manager Cameron Harland, head of laboratory Brian Scadden, and Archives NZ chief archivist Greg Goulding. The deal is a "win-win" for the film industry, says Mr Harland.

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A last-minute deal to save thousands of precious New Zealand films is in the can.

Archives New Zealand has struck a deal with Sir Peter Jackson's post-production company Park Road Post to take over the last 35mm colour film processing lab in Australasia.

While Park Road and Archives NZ would not say how much the deal cost, it is part of a $2.8 million government project to restore the country's films during the next five years.

Ten people would be made redundant from Park Road as part of the lab's closure, with Archives NZ likely to rehire some of them.

The lab, owned by Park Road, was to process its last film today. Park Road general manager Cameron Harland announced its closure in April, saying the shift to digital had rendered the lab commercially unsustainable.

But Archives NZ announced yesterday that the Government would take over the historic lab. More than 1000 films were still in desperate need of restoration, which could be done only at the laboratory, it said.

Archives NZ chief archivist Greg Goulding said older films were recorded on acetate or nitrate stock, which had disintegrated rapidly.

With the purchase of the lab - for what he labelled a "nominal sum" - Archives would fast-track its mission to convert all films to more-durable polyester stock.

"We didn't have to think too long and too hard before we realised we should do this. [These films] are a really important part of New Zealand's culture, we can't let them disintegrate and disappear."

Once preserved, the films could be digitised and would be uploaded to the Archives YouTube channel.

The lab at Park Road dates back to 1941. It was established in Wellington as part of the government-owned National Film Unit, which was bought by Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh in 1999.

Mr Harland said the deal to keep the lab running was a "win-win" for the industry.

Archives would consider opening the lab for commercial film-makers to process celluloid film in the future. The lab would be relocated and opened for archival processing from November.

RIGHT IN THE NICK OF TIME

There were tears and the odd moment of outright panic, but the Hold Your Breath crew made it to the lab in the nick of time. 

Right on deadline at 8am yesterday, the young filmmakers delivered 50 cans containing  6000 metres of celluloid film to Park Road Post for processing.

They were given the deadline before yesterday's deal to save the lab announced, and thought theirs would be the last 35mm film to be processed there.

The crew were ''incredibly excited'' to have made the deadline, Candlelit Pictures producer Alix Whittaker said. They aimed to have the film finished and accepted into the American Film Institute Festival in November.

They narrowly avoided a major meltdown in Queenstown, Whittaker said. Moments before boarding the plane, they realised three cans of film had accidently been tucked among gear set to be freighted to Auckland.

''It was probably one of the most stressful days of my life, I cried three times.  All I could imagine was that, after all of this, after everyone supporting us, half the film ends up in the wrong place and can't get processed.''

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She said it would be amazing if Archives NZ began a commercial film printing service. ''It would be a dream come true if they opened it up for film-makers like us, because we'd keep doing it for sure.''

SCREEN GEMS UNCOVERED

Post-Napier earthquake footage, a little-known Len Lye film and a documentary of the devastating Ballantynes fire in Christchurch are among the "hidden gems" in the national film collection.

In a recent audit, Archives staff discovered forgotten films in serious need of some tender loving care. They included two documentaries of Napier shot immediately before and after the 1931 earthquake, allowing precious insight into the impacts of the quake.

Revealing footage was found of the devastating 1947 fire at Ballantynes department store in Christchurch that killed 41 people. A 1928 Len Lye film called Tusalava was also unearthed. All these films will be scanned and restored.

The first film on record at Archives is of the 1901 royal visit by the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York (later George V and Queen Mary).

Contact Michelle Duff
General reporter
Email: michelle.duff@dompost.co.nz
Twitter: @michelle_duff

- The Dominion Post

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