Mortal Engines rule!

CoverIf you haven’t read Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve, you’d better get on to it. Or you won’t be able to compare it with the movie – our very own Peter Jackson will begin shooting on this film in March 2017!

Written for young adults, Carnegie Medal winning Mortal Engines is a fast-paced tale of good and evil. The first of four stories, Mortal Engines is set in a dystopian, steampunk future where cities and townships have become portable, driven by machines; and predatory.

The Traction City of London has chased down and eaten a small town. Eaten!!? As celebrations begin, fifteen year old Tom Natsworthy, a third-class apprentice in the Historian’s Guild, discovers corruption in the heart of the city.

The man he respects most, Thaddeus Valentine, is not what he appears to be. Tainted with this knowledge, Tom is ejected from London: pushed down a waste tube and out into the Hunting Grounds of Europe. Aided by a scar-faced girl intent on murdering his mentor, Tom must find his way back to his city, to fight for its future.

Philip Reeve creates great characters and scenes. The book is so visual that it reads like a movie. I’m excited to see how Phillip Reeve’s Steampunk ideas of huge metal and cog cities, driven by steam, will translate to the big screen.

Book to film: The Changeover

Cover of The ChangeoverMargaret Mahy’s young adult novel, The Changeover was already several years old when I first picked up a worn copy in my high school library at the age of 15.

I was so taken with it that even before I had finished reading it I was re-imagining it in my head as a movie.

In that peculiarly obsessive way that teenage girls sometimes are about their favourite things my mania lead me to imagined locations and camera angles, and I had a very long list of songs to be included in the soundtrack. Most of which, upon reflection, were terrible.

When Margaret Mahy died in 2012, I felt moved to write a heartfelt blog post about how important her writing, and this book in particular, had been to me.

A couple of years later at a WORD Christchurch panel discussion on The Changeover, I learned that a film of the book was in development and felt conflicted in that way that book fans often do. Because how could that film ever live up to the book, or indeed my own imaginary movie of it?

Stuart McKenzie is, with his wife Miranda Harcourt, co-director of that film which recently finished shooting here in Christchurch.

The Changeover directors Miranda Harcourt and Stuart McKenzie
The Changeover co-directors Miranda Harcourt and Stuart McKenzie. (Image credit: Dean McKenzie)

Perhaps not fully understanding the degree of my fangirl obsession, he agreed to answer some questions about what their version of Mahy’s story will look like.

Margaret Mahy wrote a number of terrific books for young adults – what made you want to film The Changeover particularly?

We felt The Changeover was really cinematic. It’s a supernatural thriller about a troubled teenager who’s got to change over and become a witch in order to save her little brother from an evil spirit. So, it’s got a great central conflict! And its genre is very clear — yet at the same time it puts this compelling twist on it by feeling very naturalistic.

Its themes of love, loss, sacrifice and change are primal. Laura Chant feels like a real person — she struggles with herself and her kind of dispossessed place in the world, but she’s got big dreams. In other words, she’s a complex and powerful heroine who our audience can really identify with!

Another thing that made the book feel so cinematic for us was Christchurch. We updated Margaret’s story to contemporary, post-earthquake Christchurch. For us, the brokenness and reconstruction of Christchurch is like a visual metaphor for Laura’s own damage and subsequent transformation.

The Chant home set
The Chant family home in the Red Zone (Image credit: Dean McKenzie)

The book (and Margaret Mahy herself) are very beloved, by me and many others. Does that place extra pressure on you to do a good job with the film?

All along we’ve wanted to make something Margaret would love: raw and lyrical, tender and tough and true. We wanted to keep the story feeling very contemporary, as the book itself was when it was first published in 1984. Like Margaret, we wanted to find the magic in the real world, not drift away into fantasy.

We were lucky to have Margaret’s blessing from the start. Before she died, she read and loved an early draft of the screenplay. So that was a great feeling to carry through the development of the project and into the shoot itself. She really encouraged us to find the spirit of the story and not be bound by the literal form of the book. We had this quote in mind by the great French film director Jean Renoir, “What interests me in adaptation isn’t the possibility of revealing the original in a film version, but the reaction of the film maker to the original work.”

I guess you could think of the book and the film as two reflecting worlds — much in the same way that Laura herself discovers the connectedness between two powerful realities — magic and the everyday — and finding in fact that they’re really one and the same.

Margaret was always clear that Laura’s changeover into a witch is a metaphor for her becoming a young woman, an active journey to embrace her own creative power. And Laura’s story itself is a metaphor for the challenges we all face in our lives and the changeovers we all have to go on in order to grow.

Oh yeah, back to the question about doing a good job… Yes, we really feel that! And we’ve still got a lot of work to do in post-production. Helps to have great people to work with, which we have.

On the one hand The Changeover, if you’re familiar with Christchurch, is very recognisably placed here, on the other hand it’s also very vague about where it’s set. The name of the city is never mentioned. The suburbs and street names in it are all made up. Christchurch is certainly its spiritual home, but you could make a very good argument that it’s not a story that needs to be specifically told here, and yet you are telling it here. What made you want to shoot here rather than in Auckland or “Wellywood”?

As you say, Christchurch is the “spiritual home” of The Changeover and we always wanted to make it here. I was born and bred in Christchurch and spent my early teenage years in Bishopdale which Margaret calls Gardendale in the book.

The Changeover was welcomed to Christchurch by Ngai Tahu in a moving whakatau — as a production we felt hugely embraced by Christchurch, the people, the Council, the environment itself.

Shooting in central Christchurch
Nighttime shoot in central Christchurch (Image credit: Dean McKenzie)

Miranda and I were determined to film in Christchurch because its flat vistas give the film a unique look. Cinematographer Andrew Stroud and Production Designer Iain Aitken helped us reflect the everyday and often unexpected beauty of the place.

Christchurch also allowed us to explore the division between social worlds which is a key feature of The Changeover. Laura comes from a solo-parent family struggling to make ends meet. By contrast, Sorensen Carlisle lives in an architect-designed home with fine art on the walls and a sense of history and sophistication. The developing romance between Laura and Sorensen means first differentiating and then bridging these two worlds.

Mahy herself described The Changeover as having a lot of folk tale elements – there are “evil” step-parents and an enchanted brother, for instance –  but also that “the city is simultaneously a mythological forest”. Will your film retain those suggestions of a modern day fairy tale?

Yes it does and that is in the very DNA of the story. At heart The Changeover is an emotionally powerful female rite-of-passage keyed into a primal fairy tale tradition. It’s true that those fairy tale elements are more overt in Margaret’s novel.

We wanted the film to feel very contemporary and naturalistic so in our story the fairy tale nature is felt rather than seen. We often thought about Bruno Bettelheim’s groundbreaking study on fairy tale called The Uses of Enchantment. He says, “This is exactly the message that fairy tales get across to the child in manifold form: that a struggle against severe difficulties in life is unavoidable, is an intrinsic part of human existence — but that if one does not shy away, but steadfastly meets unexpected and often unjust hardships, one masters all obstacles and at the end emerges victorious.” That is something we experience through Laura in The Changeover.

In terms of characters, it strikes me that Sorensen Carlisle, at least how he’s written in the book, is something of a contradictory figure – dangerous yet vulnerable, jovial yet dark, aloof yet intense – that must present some challenges when it comes to casting. How difficult was it to find someone who can be all those things in a convincing way?

We had great casting agents in NZ and in the UK. We looked long and hard to cast this film. When we auditioned young UK actor Nick Galitzine we knew we had found our mysterious and compelling Sorensen Carlisle. And Nick and Erana James who plays Laura Chant have a powerful chemistry together. We have always said that this intensity is our special effect!

Reading the book as a teenager it was incredibly important to me that Laura was of mixed racial heritage both in a personal sense, as it was quite unusual to read about someone like me as the heroine of a novel, but also in that it marks her as being different and something of an outsider, which I think adds to her story. I’m really pleased that you’ve cast a part-Māori actress in the role. Was that always the plan?

This was totally important to us too. We love how in the book Laura is part-Maori but Margaret Mahy doesn’t make a big thing about that, it’s simply part of the unique world of the story which in fact helps make it feel universal. It’s true that Laura being part-Maori means that by her very nature she finds herself between two worlds. That’s the journey Laura is on — to open herself to new worlds, new experience.

We looked for many years for our Laura Chant — and we kept coming back to Erana James who we had met early on in our process. Of course, financiers want to cast someone in a central role like this who already has a profile. Erana hadn’t acted in a film before so she was unknown in NZ let alone internationally. But with the support of the NZ Film Commission we made a “tone reel” last year with Erana playing Laura. She was fantastic in it — and the international people involved in the project — like our sales agent and even Tim Spall or Melanie Lynskey — could immediately see that this young woman had something special.

Erana James on set as Laura Chant
Erana James on set as Laura Chant (Image credit: Dean McKenzie)

Could you hope for a better villain than Timothy Spall?

You are so right! But what drew us to Tim in the first place is that he could reveal the humanity in Carmody Braque. It’s this which makes him such a powerful adversary for Laura — because there is something of Braque in Laura herself. A desire to live more fully and expand her horizons.

We are so lucky to have Timothy Spall in The Changeover. He is mesmerising. I think Margaret Mahy would have been thrilled!

It’s clear from his answers that Stuart McKenzie is as much a fan of The Changeover as I am, so I feel much more relaxed about the movie adaptation now.

In addition to the film coming out late next year, McKenzie says there will also be a movie tie-in reprint of the (currently out of print) book. So roll on 2017!

Find out more

Spooky stuff for Halloween

All Hallow’s Eve is coming up and if you’re in the mood for some ghostly good times, have we got the books, movies and info for you!

For Kids

We’ve got some great Halloween-themed books for kids. You might want to try –

We’ve also got this handy Halloween guide with a little bit of history, Halloween crafts and costumes, and safety tips, like this video from New Zealand Police.

For Adults and Teens

If you prefer things a little darker, we’ve got that covered too.

Movies

  • Frightening Flicks – My choice of the best horror movies from our library catalogue. With gore rating, so you can pick the level of fake blood you’re comfortable with.

Award-winning horror

Maybe try some horrific winners?

  • Cover of A head full of ghostsBram Stoker Awards – Named after the author of Dracula, and run by the Horror Writers Association.
  • Sir Julius Vogel Awards – Named after a former New Zealand Prime Minister/science fiction novelist, the awards “recognise excellence in science fiction, fantasy, or horror works created by New Zealanders and New Zealand residents”.

Halloween events in Christchurch

Halloween Party preparation

Cover of The Hummingbird Bakery Halloween and bonfire night bakesOr if you’re planning your own shindig, you’re going to need –

So that’s plenty of Halloween-y stuff to consume, just make sure you return it on time (or we’ll own your immortal soul, as per our library membership conditions*).

Not a library member yet? Join uuuuussssss

*Not really.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

Want to instantly feel better about being a teen? Be thankful you’re not peculiar…

miss-peregrines-home-for-peculiar-childrenMiss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs is a book was so weirdly compelling it had me from the moment I saw the strange image on the cover – it had to be different from your average vampire romance.

A bestselling story for young adults that appeals to a wide audience, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is based on a fantastical collection of sepia photographs, of children with strange abilities.

Following clues left from his Grandfather’s violent death, Jake becomes linked with the fate of the original and colourful characters that fill a slip of time, hidden on an island. The reader becomes drawn in too, unable to stop reading late into the night. That’s always the sign of a great book.

Leaving room for a couple of sequels in the series, which is up to book 3: The Library of Souls, this first story begins an epic journey of self-discovery and adventure for Jacob and his new friends as they try to escape those who would expose them.

Are ghosts a photograph of time? What is really behind the spooky photographs that are sprinkled through the pages? The really scary thing about this book is that images in the antique pictures seem REAL.

The very exciting news is that Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is making the transition to the big screen! It will be in cinemas this week, with a star studded lineup which includes Dame Judi Dench as Miss Avocet.

Before you see it, I urge you to read the book.

If anyone can do this book justice, Tim Burton can? I have high hopes…

Still boldly going: Star Trek, 50 years on

I remember it quite clearly. It was 1989*, I was 14, and TV had just got a third channel. My sister and I were watching the box when an ad for a new show came on. There was this guy with what looked like a gold banana clip wrapped round his face. We turned and looked at each other and burst out laughing!

That was the first I ever saw of Star Trek: the Next Generation. Not that I actually watched it.  Oh no! It obviously was a show for total dorks. Not a girl like me trying desperately to be cool.

What would 14 year old me think of 41 year old me? Between then and now, I have to admit, I turned into a Trekkie. I like to think I’m not one of those super crazy Trekkies who wear Starfleet uniforms in public and know how to speak Klingon, but…. When Miss Missy was a baby and said “qapla” (that means “success” in Klingon, you know) I claimed that as an actual factual word, and even said it back to her whenever she did something clever.

I’ve planned family holidays to Wellington and Las Vegas around Star Trek exhibits and experiences. I own every available Trek movie and series from Enterprise to the Kelvin timeline reboot. I’ve even got Star Trek The Animated Series – but not the original series (that could be because I’m not a big fan of Captain Kirk, but actually it’s because I’ve never seen it for sale). And I do wear my Starfleet T-shirt in public.

Star Trek, original series memorabilia
Star Trek, original series memorabilia, Spreydon Library, Flickr File Reference: 2016-07-20-ST_Display_5

See, the thing is, when I actually watched Star Trek a few years later, I discovered a show that is not only exciting sci-fi, but also funny, poignant, and thought provoking. My first exploration of the final frontier was Star Trek IV, The Voyage Home**, otherwise known as “The Whale Movie”. Funnily enough, this is the movie that doesn’t feature the Starship Enterprise, isn’t set in space, or the future, and doesn’t have Spock’s iconic pointy ears (as he spends most of the movie with a bandana round his head). What it is, is a lovable, funny, conservation parable, where the crew of the Enterprise (in a stolen Klingon Bird-of-prey) go back in time — to what was the present, but is now 30 years in the past (that’s as far back as Marty McFly goes in Back to the Future, you know!) — to rescue some whales in order to save the world, and the future.

ICover of The Autobiography of James T. Kirkt’s full of wonderful scenes like Chekov wondering round 1980s San Francisco looking for “nuclear wessels” with his Russian accent; Scotty trying to talk to a (now very old school) computer; Kirk getting the girl (as usual) and excusing Spock’s odd behaviour by mistakenly claiming that he had a bit too much “LDS” back in the ’60s. I recently watched it again, with The Young Lad, and enjoyed it just as much as I had when I first saw it on TV when I was 17.

After seeing the Voyage Home, I started watching The Next Generation now and then — until I became hooked when Jean Luc Picard (aka Patrick Stewart) was captured by the Borg. It turns out that resistance really is futile. Becoming a Trekkie was inevitable. Although I must say, you can call that thing Geordi La Forge wears a Visual Instrument and Sensory Organ Replacement (or VISOR) all you like, it still looks just like a banana clip to me!

Cover of Star Trek CostumesOf course, my first contact with Star Trek in 1989 was nowhere near the beginning of the story. Before my generation of Trekkies, there were those who were captivated by The Original Series which first aired 50 years ago today on 8 September 1966.

1966 was the year that The Sound of Music won an Academy Award, the year that John Lennon said The Beatles were bigger than Jesus. The year that US planes began dropping bombs on Hanoi and Haiphong in Vietnam.  It was the year that the Black Panther Party was formed, and the year Martin Luther King was stoned during a civil rights march in Chicago. It was the year that Luna 10 became the first space craft to orbit the moon.

And it was the year that Gene Rodenberry surprised the world with his groundbreaking “Wagon Train to the stars.”

Star Trek: The Original Series featured a mixed race, mixed gender, mixed species crew on a space ship, in an imagined future where planet earth is at peace.

At its core, Star Trek has been about tolerance and understanding, with reason triumphing over prejudice.

~Jay Garmon

The show had a hard time getting on air, with the first pilot being rejected because it was too cerebral, had a female character as second in command, and because Spock looked too demonic with his pointy ears and slanty eyebrows. Roddenberry wrote a new pilot (with a fist fight at the end) and recast Majel Barrett as Nurse Christine Chapel instead of Number One — but he refused to get rid of Spock. And thank goodness! Imagine what Star Trek (and pop-culture) would be like without Spock! No “Live long and prosper,” no Vulcan hand salute, no “The good of the many outweighs the good of the few.” Were those network executives out of their (non-Vulcan) minds?

Well, the show did make it to air, but it struggled to survive. It managed three seasons mainly thanks to a million-letter-strong writing campaign by the ever loyal fans. But then, even though it was cancelled, the world just refused to say goodbye to Star Trek. Because whatever the network execs said, the audience found it inspirational.

When I was nine years old Star Trek came on. I looked at it and I went screaming through the house, ‘Come here, mum, everybody, come quick, come quick, there’s a black lady on television and she ain’t no maid!’ I knew right then and there I could be anything I wanted to be.

~Whoopi Goldberg

And so here we are, fifty years later, celebrating the anniversary of a franchise that totals (to date) six TV series and 13 movies, and all manner of spinoffs.

Now I can’t bring you anything as exciting as a make-up collection, or a collectors edition Barbie doll. Or something as weird as an inflight Spock bag. But I wanted to do something special to mark the occasion. I made a Star Trek book list not that long ago, so this time I decided to trawl through all our Sci-fi and movie magazines for all the best Trek bits on offer. Well, I’m not usually much of a magazine junkie, but I’ve thoroughly enjoyed discovering the wonders of PressReader and Zinio, which can bring you magazines on the go on your smart phone or tablet — the PressReader app will even tell you when the latest issue of your favourite mags are available.  And I’ve realised just how easy it is to place a hold on the right issue of a magazine. And so, without further ado, I present to you:

Missbeecrafty’s Star Trek Magazine Round-up

  • rbz0005427SciFi Now Timewarp Collection, Volume One: A guide to the first six Trek movies, with some interesting ‘did you knows’ and a guide to The Next Generation. Interestingly, only one of my favourite episodes made it onto their Best list (Chain of Command), and another favourite (I, Borg) is on their Worst list. I would definitely add Measure of a Man and The Outcast to the Best list!
  • SFX, Issue 270, March 2016: The anniversary issue, sporting a fetching but anachronistic red cover and command emblem. Interviews with William Shatner (James Kirk), Jonathan Frakes (Will Riker), Robert Picardo (The Doctor), and Brannan Braga (writer and producer). Also a 52 year, logical temporal anomaly of a 50 year timeline.
  • SFX, Issue 275, Summer 2016: An interview with Brent Spiner, which is actually about Independence Day, but I did like his idea of Tilda Swinton playing a Soong-type android.
  • Empire, Issue 326, August 2016: Another anniversary edition. This one is a 58 page mag-within-a mag ram-packed with Trek-ness. Some wonderful photos from the CBS archives; my favourite is Anson Williams (aka Potsie from Happy Days) chatting with Seven of Nine. I never knew he grew up to be a director! Did you know Christian Slater, Famke Janssen and Kirsten Dunst all starred in Star Trek? Check out Before They Were Famous to find out who else! Celebrate Redshirts, and finally, test your knowledge with the 50 years, 50 points quiz.
  • SciFiNow, Issue 105 2015: A touching tribute to Leonard Nimoy
  • SciFiNow, Issue 119 2016: Part 1 of a timeline which includes info about voyages that never made it to the screen. (Sorry, I didn’t manage to track down part 2 in time to include it in this list).
  • Total Film, Issue 248, August 2016: The making of Star Trek Beyond and another timeline. This one is worth mentioning because it includes Galaxy Quest (“the greatest Star Trek film that isn’t”). It’s wonderful to know that Patrick Stewart loved it, and laughed longer and louder than anyone in the cinema!

And there you have it folks. Live long, and prosper!

*The nitpickers among you may know that Star Trek: the Next Generation originally aired in 1987, but that was in America of course, and this was a loooooong time before anyone invented “same week as the US” TV!

**While we don’t have the DVD in the catalogue, we do have the soundtrack for Star Trek IV, The Voyage Home, on LP no less!!

Resistance is futile

Cover of Star Trek, The Green LanternHave you ever seen a book and known you just had to read it–not because you thought you would actually like it necessarily, but because not reading it was just–inconceivable? Well, that’s how I felt when I saw Star Trek, Green Lantern: The Spectrum War.

I’ve never really gotten into reading graphic novels, unless you count the Asterix and Tintin books I used to read when I was a kid. And I don’t know much about the Green Lantern, except that he’s, uh, green, and he, well, carries a lantern. But I am a Trekkie!* And even though I’ve never really felt the need to read much Trek fiction, I just had to read this! Resistance was futile!

And you know what? I loved it! The artwork beautifully captures the rebooted Star Trek characters, and as I read, I could literally hear Chekov, Spock, and Bones talking in my head. What’s not to love about a book that does that?

I mean, OK, the Superhero-Trek mash-up was a little goofy, but reading it put a smile on my face, and sometimes that’s just what you want a book to do.

And while we’re talking about Star Trek, last weekend Mr K had the brilliant idea of sending the kids to see Finding Dory while we went to see Star Trek Beyond, and I have to say I had a fantastic time! It was funny, exciting, and even touching. Bones and Spock were hilariously paired up, Kirk was his usual arrogant self, and new-girl Jaylah kicked butt, which was awesome. In the August issue of Empire, director Justin Lin said:

In making Star Trek Beyond, I wanted to embrace the essence of Trek

And that is exactly what he did. It’s Trek as it should be!

 

*Read about my fangirl experience when I met Marina Sirtis

A glut of literary cookbooks

Cover of Dinner with Mr DarcyAs so often happens with me, I recently spotted a single title that lead me down a library collection rabbit hole that I’ve only just scrambled out of.

The book in question was Dinner With Mr Darcy: Recipes Inspired by the Novels and Letters of Jane Austen. My interest was piqued. I had a sudden appetite to know – what other literature could I consume, literally?

I seemed to recall my sister attending a Cover of A feast of Ice & FireGame of Thrones themed party in recent years that featured some Westerosi cuisine along the lines of Sansa Stark’s beloved lemon cakes. And sure enough, I found the very book, A Feast of Ice and Fire: The Official Companion Cookbook.

And well, from there it was cookbooks all the way down. And being that it’s winter and nobody really wants to go out much, I wonder if putting on a bit of a shindig with themed eating might not be the way to go? If that tickles your gastronomic fancy, then have I got the reading list for you!

First off, Dinner with Mr Darcy is not the only option for Austen fans as Cooking With Jane Austen covers similar Regency fare. Complete with food-related quotes from Austen’s work and with over 200 recipes there’s sure to be something to tempt even the most proud and prejudicial of guests.

Cover of Green eggs and ham cookbookFor kids (or the ravenous child within) there are a number of titles to choose including those inspired by childhood classics such as The Winnie-the-Pooh Cookbook and Green Eggs and Ham Cookbook. Not to mention two volumes of Roald Dahl’s Revolting Recipes.

Or if you know a child who’d like fairytale-inspired food then you could try Fairy Tale Feasts: A Literacy CookbookCook Me A Story: A Treasury of Stories and Recipes Inspired by Classic Fairy Tales or Chinese Fairy Tale Feasts: A Literary Cookbook. Fans of Brian Jacques long-running children’s series will no doubt be interested in The Redwall Cookbook.

Cover of Fifty shades of chickenThose looking for something a little more adult might like Fifty Shades of Chicken: A Parody in A Cookbook. I only hope is that none of the shades is “pink”. I also suspect the name of the author “F L Fowler” is a nomme de (poultry) plume.

Also for the grownups are the thirst-quenching literary themed cocktail recipes of Tequila Mockingbird, and True Blood Drinks & Bites.

Cover of The geeky chef cookbookMore pop culture than literary? Geeks of several flavours can explore their fandom through food with The Official DC Super Hero CookbookThe Geeky Chef Cookbook (covers Harry Potter, Star Trek, World of Warcraft, Dr Who and more), and The Unofficial Harry Potter cookbook.

For those with more refined palates, Mrs Patmore’s kitchen secrets are revealed in The Unofficial Downton Abbey cookbook.

Cover of VoraciousIt’s comforting to know I’m not the only person to ever ask the “what books could I eat?” question either, in fact a book by a former pastry chef turned butcher asks just this…and what’s more provides some recipes in answer which can be found in Voracious: A Hungry Reader Cooks Her Way Through Great Books.

There’s also a photographic twist on the same idea in Fictitious Dishes: An Album of Literature’s Most Memorable Meals which includes culinary creations from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Oliver Twist, and To Kill a Mockingbird among others.

Meanwhile, there are certain dishes or kinds of food that are, in my mind, inseparable from the fictional characters for whom they were favourites. I often think of the Famous Five when I enjoy a ginger beer, and should I ever find myself in possession of a rock cake I’m sure I’ll make the same association.

What food item from literature would you like to try the recipe for? Bags not Anne of Green Gables’ liniment* cake!

*Apparently very easily mistaken for vanilla extract when you’ve got a cold.

The Dead Lands: Making a movie in te reo Māori

I’ve studied a few languages over the years including te reo Māori and one thing my teachers always encouraged was watching films in the language as it helped develop an ear for what native speakers sound like, as well as helping with vocabulary and grammar. In fact, this is how I first discovered Jackie Chan movies when I was learning Chinese.

Learners of te reo Māori are lucky enough to have Māori Television as a resource for hearing te reo Māori spoken, even if no one else in their household, school or place of work is fluent. But in terms of Saturday night movies on DVD, there’s very little to choose from.

t’s not difficult to find movies with a sprinkling of te reo Māori, here and there – films like Whale rider, BoyThe Piano and a few others. But a movie where the only English language you’ll find is in the subtitles? Now, that is a rarity – but that’s exactly what you get with 2014 action movie, The Dead Lands.

With impressively gory deaths and terrific fight choreography The Dead Lands is sort of a cross between Apocalypto, (Mel Gibson’s brutal Meso-American set action film), a Bruce Lee movie, and a mafia revenge drama. It’s closest cinematic equivalent in New Zealand terms might be the Geoff Murphy directed classic, Utu.

Director Toa Fraser, was good enough to answer a few questions for me about the te reo Māori aspect of the film.

Toa Fraser on set
Director Toa Fraser on set with actor James Rolleston. Photo credit: Matt Klitscher

Why was the decision made to have the dialogue in te reo, rather than in English? How do you think it added to the film?

Honestly, we just thought it would be much cooler to do it in te reo. Glenn Standring always wrote it to be translated. Te Manahau Morrison wrote a beautiful translation, very heightened and theatrical that the cast found thrilling and challenging. It suited the fact that we were making an indigenous martial arts movie that looked to Hollywood but also to Asia for inspiration. Kurosawa was a particular inspiration.

Did this require the actors, or you, to learn more te reo?

The cast had a very varied level of confidence in te reo. We did cast it in such a way that people like Te Kohe Tuhaka and Raukura Turei could lead within the group, and guide the others who were less confident. For me I don’t speak te reo so of course it was very challenging but I had great support from Tainui Stephens and Jamus Webster.

Are there specific challenges with making a movie completely in te reo Maori or is it pretty much the same as making one in English?

It was a joy to make a movie that embraced tikanga Māori as a paramount part of the process. We said karakia everyday, used Māori terms onset (e.g. tīmata/kōkiri for action, kāti for cut).

I still say “kāti” on set. I directed an episode of Penny Dreadful in Ireland last year with Eva Green and Rory Kinnear. Rory said, “We just keep going until you say kāti.”

What are your thoughts on the use of te reo Māori, generally?

I look forward to the day when we are all comfortable in New Zealand/Aotearoa speaking English and Māori as much as we can, and all schools are equally well-resourced for English and Māori language education. I think it is ridiculous that, for instance, a very well-resourced central Auckland school has some 15, 000 books in English, a few in Japanese, one French and erm, some in Māori. What’s that about?

Languages are cool. Let’s celebrate them.

Find out more

New Zealand International Film Festival 2016

Last night the Christchurch programme for the New Zealand International Film Festival was released and as usual, in amongst a programme that really does have something for everyone, there’s a healthy clutch of literary offerings.

Every year the New Zealand International Film Festival screens a range of films over a two week period. The 2016 Christchurch festival runs from 28 July to 14 August.

Literary films at the Festival

Several of the films at the Festival are based on books, or are on the subject of writers. Portions of the following list have been kindly supplied by the Festival organisers.

Cover of The History PlaysChimes at Midnight
Thanks to an astonishingly crisp restoration, Orson Welles’ 1965 Shakespearean masterpiece lives anew. Welles gives a mammoth performance as the Bard’s tragic fool Falstaff, along with John Gielgud as Henry IV and Keith Baxter as Hal. Chimes at Midnight is based on a compendium of Shakespeare’s history plays – Richard II, Henry IV Parts I and II, Henry V, and The Merry Wives of Windsor.

The Daughter
The most lauded Australian drama of the last year, this bold, superbly acted debut from acclaimed theatre director Simon Stone reimagines Ibsen’s The Wild Duck in a contemporary small town.

The Handmaiden
Based on Welsh novelist Sarah Waters’ Fingersmith, this outrageous and lusciously erotic thriller from the director of Oldboy transposes a Victorian tale of sex, duplicity and madness to 1930s Japanese-occupied Korea.

Cover of High RiseHigh-rise
In Ben Wheatley’s ambitious, wildly disorienting adaptation of the J.G. Ballard novel, tenants of a high-tech skyscraper slip into a literal class war. Starring Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irons, Sienna Miller and Elisabeth Moss. (Read our blog post about the novel, High-rise: J. G. Ballard’s Vertical Zoo)

The Idealist
A plane crash, government corruption and nuclear warheads are just some of the ingredients for this taut Danish docu-drama, set in the aftermath of the Cold War. Based on a book by the award-winning journalist Poul Brink.

Indignation
Adapted from Philip Roth’s autobiographical novel of the same name, Indignation is an incisive, affecting drama of embattled individuality on a 50s American campus. With Logan Lerman and Sarah Gadon.

Cover of Life, animatedLife, Animated
This incredibly moving and fascinating doco takes us into the interior life of autistic Owen Suskind, and explores how his love of Disney animated features gave him the tools as a child to communicate with the world. Based on the book by Ron Suskind.

Neruda
Not your conventional biopic, this enthralling dramatic exploration of the legacy of Chilean poet Pablo Neruda conjures up a fiction in which he is pursued into political exile by an incompetent detective played by Gael García Bernal.

Obit
Vanessa Gould’s fond and fascinating documentary introduces us to the unseen women and men responsible for crafting the obituaries of the New York Times.

A Quiet Passion
Cynthia Nixon, Jennifer Ehle and Keith Carradine star in Terence Davies’ lively, witty and ultimately intensely moving dramatisation of the sheltered life of 19th-century New England poet Emily Dickinson.

Cover of The rehearsalThe Rehearsal
In Alison Maclean’s vibrant screen adaptation of Eleanor Catton’s debut novel, a first-year acting student (James Rolleston) channels the real-life experience of his girlfriend’s family into art and sets off a moral minefield.

Sunset Song
“Terence Davies’s Sunset Song is a movie with a catch or sob in its singing voice: a beautifully made and deeply felt adaptation of Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s 1932 novel of rural Scotland.” — Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian

Vita Activa: The Spirit of Hannah Arendt
This new documentary provides insight and historical perspective on the life and work of philosopher Hannah Arendt, illuminating her relevance to some of the most troubling phenomena of our own times.

More information

Lumber on an epic scale

cover of BarkskinsI discovered at the weekend with a rapidly beating heart, that one of my all time favourite writers,  Annie Proulx, has released a new novel.

Thirteen years since her last novel, Barkskins is, by all accounts, a rip snorter. According to what I can glean from good old Mr Google, it is 736 pages long, spanning 3 centuries, and tells the story of two French immigrants in the new land of America. They are bound to a feudal lord for three years and are sent to work in the dense and remote forests of the New World in exchange for a promise of land. The book follows them and their descendants from 1693 through to the 21st century and various family members travel all over the world, including to little old New Zealand.

Annie Proulx first caught my eye when I read The Shipping News, another great story of families, set in Newfoundland. I have never forgotten the ways she described snow and ice and barren landscapes and the families and eccentrics who lived amongst it.

Cover of The shipping news

Accordion Crimes was also a favourite, charting the lives of immigrants settling in America through the life of an accordion that is handed down through families; Jewish, Irish, Italian and many others.

Both The Shipping News and Brokeback Mountain (a short story originally), were also made into movies, both well worth watching.

Ms Proulx, now in her eighties, was a bit of a late bloomer, with her first short stories published in her 50s and her first novel in 1992. She has gone onto to publish 13 works and win over twenty literary prizes, including a Pulitzer prize for The Shipping News.

Her novels and short storys are filled with hard bitten complex characters and landscapes that are wonderful described, I find I get immersed in her stories and I think this is because she herself has led a full and intense life, always on her own terms. She has been married and divorced three times and has raised three sons alone. She worked as postal worker and a waitress, and early on a writer of magazine articles on everything from chilli growers to canoeing.

She has two history degrees, drifted the countryside in her pickup truck, can fly fish, fiddle, and hunt game birds. But for all her life experience, she has said that she likes to write about what she doesn’t know, rather than draw on what she has already experienced. If you haven’t read her books, I strongly recommend them.

So, I’m on the library waiting list, hoping the book arrives quickly so I can again revel in her wondrous prose!