Doco on Coast group wins at Chicago festival
Chicago is calling Christchurch film-maker Cody Packer, whose documentary on a reclusive West Coast religious community has won widespread acclaim.
Packer's film, Gloriavale, has won best documentary at the 2012 Chicago CineYouth International Student Film Festival and will be shown at the Chicago International Film Festival in October.
Packer, 20, and fellow Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology New Zealand Broadcasting School students Shani Annand-Baron and Nathan Joe spent three days filming at Gloriavale, Haupiri.
Few cameras have been inside the quiet community, where residents lead a religious life.
Packer said of his first visit: "I went out there for a day and there were 12 of them. It was intimidating. They put chairs around us in a ring. I was petrified.
"They asked us if we were undercover and I assured them I wanted to just turn up and roll the camera."
He was drawn to Gloriavale after his original idea of filming New Zealand's Right Wing Resistance fell through.
The group proved unreliable and difficult to work with, he said.
"I am interested in the smaller, darker corners of society, so I started looking into New Zealand cults," he said.
"Gloriavale showed up on the internet and a lot of people were debating whether it is a cult."
Gloriavale residents eventually warmed to the trio and allowed them to film.
"They were a very welcoming, open-armed community once they got to know me, but there was always a residing undercurrent of control they still wanted to have over the film," Packer said.
The team lived within Gloriavale for three days, sleeping in a room next to Gloriavale leader Neville Cooper, who spent 11 months in prison for child abuse in 1995.
The experience was unsettling, Packer said.
"He came and preached to us every day at lunch. It got to the point where it was unbearable. He is a huge character with huge charisma. I'll never forget it."
Packer said there were undertones of a cult mentality within the community.
"I felt like an alien on another planet. They were all staring. The children are all quite curious about the outside world," he said.
"I think a lot of the younger people were going through the motions. Their lives were planned out and they were like zombies. Girls as young as 12 had to get up horrendously early to make the bread and prepare the lunches.
"Every day was the same. You get bored watching them live."
The film won the trio a best student documentary award and a showing at the film festival's CineYouth Best of the Fest.
Packer has recently completed a six-month internship with Desert Road Productions.
He will travel to Chicago in October.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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