OPINION: In the past decade, I've travelled around New Zealand a lot to celebrate creativity from our region, encouraging it and celebrating the way film here has changed and grown in the past 10 years. In that time, I've come across opinions ranging from the upbeat "Oh, I can't wait to see what Hamilton can do - I feel it's a city that's about to finally show us something amazing," to the stereotypical "Hamilton? Really? Other than a cross-dresser from 40 years ago, what has your city ever done for film?"
This month I was in New Plymouth for the finals of Tropfest 2014, watching films from around New Zealand (including the eventual winner for best Visual Effects, which happens to come from Hamilton). While there, someone made a comment I had never heard before.
"How can you want to stay making things in a place where the city obviously hates creative people?"
The questioner, whom I won't name, is a fairly prominent figure in the world of film, theatre and TV in New Zealand and internationally recognised for his work. So for him to say Hamilton is seen as a city where this happens was a bit of a shock, especially since I have tried to promote Hamilton as a great place to be a film-maker.
When I asked him to elaborate, he pointed out that Hamilton is the only major city in New Zealand that doesn't have a dedicated role or person whose job is to sell the city to overseas film productions. He's right. I've known this for years. I couldn't offer a rebuttal beyond "this is true, but we've got some very talented film-makers". It was the conversational equivalent of grasping at straws, because while we do have some very good film makers, they're good in spite of the fact we have a city council that doesn't support them. They're good because they work hard and have natural talent and know the best ways to avoid having to work with the city council.
It was the first time I've ever felt like being a creative person in Hamilton working with moving image was something to be embarrassed about. Where the statement holds up is in the way Hamilton City Council facilitates film-makers.
In my years, I've been lucky and known the shortcuts to filming here without council's help because I helped write the Film Friendly Status guidelines. But what we need isn't a group of film makers who know how to manipulate the rules to make it possible to tell our stories, what we need is a council willing to help our stories be told by having someone there whose role is to facilitate film-makers. It doesn't just have to be small local productions, and it can't focus on just massive ones like The Hobbit and Emperor - we need a role on council designed to make film-making easy to happen here - not just make it possible to happen.
We need someone who can tell the world that Hamilton is the centre of some of the most diverse landscapes and potential film locations in New Zealand. An hour's drive from Hamilton are places that nowhere else in the word can match. We also also have film-makers here who can tell our stories as well - we need someone devoted to finding ways to help that happen.
The tough part is convincing a council that is so Right wing it's embarrassing to talk about it in creative circles. Supporting this sort of venture could actually have economic benefits for the city, but council won't listen because it's not "core business" - a catchphrase used to justify selling off environmentally significant reserve land, cancel public art funding and increase prices at city amenities.
So I guess the answer to the question of why I stay here and strive to be creative isn't because it's easy - it's because I want to tell stories about the place I call home. And I can always hope those who run the place will one day want to help me tell those stories as well.