Loving a life of film

WINNING WAY: Alex Galvin, holding his editing award at the 2013 Madrid Film Festival.
WINNING WAY: Alex Galvin, holding his editing award at the 2013 Madrid Film Festival.

Film director Alex Galvin talks about opera singing, film festivals and Beirut.

Did you always want to be a director?

Not really. I was interested in storytelling and writing, so I did a linguistics degree and trained to be an opera singer. I'm still a member of the New Zealand Opera Chorus. I try to do at least one a year. But I was interested in film as well.

Why film and not music, then?

The competition in music in New Zealand is fierce. As much as I love singing, it became apparent there were people better than me. So it became something I loved, not a career. In my late 20s I went to the New Zealand Film School. I was asked to direct the graduation film and from that I got a job with Propeller, which does corporate videos. I have directed more than 100 corporate videos. I still love music and use a lot of classical music in my films.

How did you get interested in opera?

I've always really liked the music. I got into it in my late teens. Choirs are always looking for men. In some ways opera and film have a lot more in common than film and theatre.

What do you mean?

In theatre you can just have one person on stage. It can be very insular and not at all cinematic. Opera, like blockbusters, is always a big production and often has plot lines that don't make sense!

What was it like filming your first feature?

When Night Falls was shot in 10 days in 2007. It was set in a single location and basically bad things happened to people. I thought the film would basically be something my mum and I would watch. I just wanted to show I could do it. But it surprised me. It was this old-style psychological thriller and did really well. It got into the States, went all around New Zealand and got five- star reviews.

What's the idea behind the film?

I've always liked classic murder mysteries, but it can be a bit twee. I like taking that classic set-up, the dark stormy night, the old house, all the cliches, so the audience thinks they know where it's heading and then halfway through completely flip it. A similar idea is behind Eternity.

But Eternity is visually very different.

That film was hugely ambitious. I really wanted to push myself and do something different to When Night Falls, which was very claustrophobic, all set inside a house or rooms. Eternity has big vistas and open spaces. I had the idea for the murder-mystery, but set inside a game. Also all the natural beauty in the film is not in the real world, but in the game world. There was a lot of interest in it, so even though I didn't get funding from Film Commission, I had enough to go ahead with the project.

There are a lot of Wellington locations in the film. Why did you film here?

I love Wellington. New Zealand has some great scenery, but we also have some very cool architecture. Wellington is the real star of Eternity, with scenes shot in the parliamentary library, Massey University, Victoria University, Wellesley Club, and some beautiful streets and houses. When Wellingtonians watch it they go, "He wouldn't drive from there to there and end up there. You can't do that!" There's a few in-jokes like that. Most of the crew were from Wellington, I'm a Wellingtonian, so it's very much a Wellington film.

The film was quite successful.

Yes and it's still getting into festivals. The first festival was St Tropez in 2012. It was the highest attended film at the festival. The director of that festival chooses three or four films to send to Cannes and chose Eternity. It was shown in the Cinema des Antipodes selection of Cannes Cinephiles. We also got into Madrid, Shanghai, Boston, Santa Monica, this year's Lucerne festival and more. It's been brilliant.

Do you have a film idol?

I love Roman Polanski. I loved China Town and Rosemary's Baby. They were big influences for me. I also like Ridley Scott and Bernardo Bertolucci.

What do you enjoy doing around Wellington?

I love all the boutique beer places. The cool bars and cafes here are awesome. We also have the best coffee in the world.

What cities overseas do you love?

Shanghai has a fantastic energy and a really interesting mix of architecture. I also went to Beirut and loved it. A lot of people told me it was a dangerous city, but I didn't find that in the slightest. It's politically unstable, but the weather was great and the people were incredible. I'd see something on BBC that was horrible and I'd look out the window and go, "It's not like that at all".

What's your opinion of the Wellington film industry?

One of the great things about the set-up in Miramar and what Peter's [Jackson] brought to Wellington is this incredible skill set in production and post- production. Also in the access to top-quality equipment. I would not have had access to the skills I had for Eternity if it wasn't for the companies in Miramar.

The Wellingtonian