The NZ film and television industry has rallied the fallen city of Christchurch.
17 Mar 2011 - 1:36 PM  UPDATED 26 Feb 2014 - 4:09 PM

The devastation wrought upon Christchurch during the earthquake that struck the city on February 22 was felt profoundly by the film and television community of New Zealand. The lives lost when the Canterbury Television (CTV) building was reduced to rubble in the wake of the 6.3 tremor were known by many in the industry.

Veronica McCarthy is forsaking her grief for her craft. “I've been to funerals of colleagues who were lost in the CTV building,” recalls the documentary filmmaker who, with her Paua Productions business partner, Virginia Wright, is archiving the impact of the earthquake for her film, A Shocking Reminder. “At night I stare at the crack in the wall but know my family is safe.”

McCarthy was shooting the rebuilding of the region after the tremor that New Zealanders call 'the first one' – the September 2010 quake – when the latest tremor hit the Christchurch CBD. Based in the city, McCarthy's house is held together by scaffolding; Wright's is condemned. Their production offices and edit suites, located within the heritage-listed Music and Arts centres, are currently cordoned-off.

“It's my job to show the rest of the country what it is like to have no water, no power; to show people who have to walk half a kilometre to share a port-a-loo. My documentary shows the spirit of the people, of the battlers that New Zealanders are.” She speaks with confidence about her work, but pauses and hums to herself before responding to how she has managed to reconcile her professional and personal experiences. She finally says, “It's really grounding.”

Christchurch's strong film sector is overseen by Film South NZ, the local chapter of Film New Zealand, the nation's production development body. FilmNZ CEO Gisella Carr, born and raised in the city, has been inspired by the unity displayed by the nation's film community, who have rallied behind their southern colleagues. “The screen industry has responded the same way New Zealanders and, for that matter, Australians have responded, which is to start raising money.”

Online auctions for Lord of the Rings memorabilia, mobile phone applications designed for easy donations and nationwide film screenings have resulted in thousands of dollars in aid money. Below-the-line hospitality providers within the film sector have shipped portable showers, generally used on film sets, into devastated areas to maintain hygiene amongst the displaced population. “We are all just waiting now, to see what can be re-established and when, so that we can undertake a second wave of help,” says Carr. “Frankly, it's not so much (about) the industry issues at this stage as it is about the restoration of the city's functionality.”

“I certainly wouldn't recommend trying to shoot here now,” agrees Uma Singh, director of KURAN Ltd, the leading production facilitator in Christchurch for the Indian film industry. “It is still too unsafe.” KURAN has provided production services for over 70 Indian production companies, though has been forced to shelve marketing of the region to Bollywood producers until the infrastructure is restored. Admitting to still being traumatised by the earthquake, Singh is resigned to a period of inactivity. “We hope to have our first production here in June,“ she predicts optimistically.

Anne Williams, principal of Christchurch-based Port Hill Productions, has had to shut down in the first week of pre-production on 'Pre-School Children', a project she was co-producing with Auckland's Pickled Possum Productions and Flux Media. The single studio she was utilising at the Christchurch Polytechnic Institute is situated within the 'Red Zone' – the region most severely damaged by the quake. “Everybody is anxious and tired,” she says, the frustration clear in her voice. “We need to get back to work, basically. You survive on adrenalin in the first week – you get your house and your family in order, then you start to think about your work and your income. And that's about where we are at.”

For Peter Young, the one positive to come out of the disaster is the sense of family that has flowed from the New Zealand film community. His production company Fisheye Films had to all but shut down when his computer network, filled with archived images and works-in-progress, went offline. “In the first four or five days you are so shell-shocked, you just don't know where to go or where to start. Then suddenly, from throughout the country, we had offers of office space and help with computers. It means a lot just knowing you have that support.” The outpouring was a defining moment in both the career and life of the industry veteran. “It reinforced that we are part of a huge community. That these people are our friends.”

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