Aunty and the Star People: Documenting Lives

Gerard SmythOne of the most successful films at the New Zealand International Film Festival had a New Zealand author as its focus: Jean WatsonAunty and the star people explores the “fascinating double life” of Jean Watson (author of Stand in the rain) who started a children’s home in Southern India. It was completely sold out during the Festival and will be released in cinemas very soon.

Gerard Smyth (the director of Aunty and the star people) and Jean discussed her life and work in India as part of WORD Christchurch.

28 years ago, Joy Cowley invited Jean to accompany her to India to explore her interest in religion. During the trip, Joy had to rush home but Jean decided to stay. She says she’s been there “ever since, emotionally when not physically”.

For the last 27 years, Jean has set up, funded and run Karunai Illam, a Children’s home in India where children from dysfunctional or destitute homes live and attend school. They now also have a school and vocational training community college. There are currently 43 children in the home and 269 attending the day school. Jean spends about three months a year in India. She says “When I’m there, I forget about here. When I’m here, I can’t forget about there.”

Jean first found literary success with Stand in the Rain, a fictionalised account of her life with Barry Crump. Gerard described this novel as meeting “with huge acclaim”. Jean countered with “Not huge acclaim.” “Some acclaim.” Gerard compromised, Jean clarified with “Well, there weren’t many writers then…” Needless to say, Jean is very humble. She said “my ordinary life seems described as extraordinary in the media, to me it is an ordinary life, maybe I should make it more extraordinary.”

Throughout her career, Jean has met many New Zealand literary luminaries:

  • Bob Lowry: He gave Jean a job after he inadvertently got her fired from the Salvation Army by showing up to visit her in an inebriated state. Jean said he was renowned as the best typographer in New Zealand and taught her how to set up type.
  • Dennis Glover: “Very sort of sarcastic, open person. You could never take offence at him. I remember him calling me a middle aged Ophelia. Whatever that means.”
  • Janet Frame: Jean met her when she was trying to get a reference to get into University from Frank Sargeson. Janet eventually wrote her a reference as well. “Just a young lady with red hair who seemed to me extremely nice and empathetic.”
  • Joy Cowley, long-time friend and Patron of Karunai Illam, said “Unwrapping Jean’s writing takes you to  place beyond words.” Jean now wants to focus on her existential writing, similar to Address to a King, complete her autobiography and write a follow-up chapter for Karunai Illam, her book describing the establishment and running of Karunai Illam. Although her goals may change; when Gerard reminded her that “55 [her age when she started the Illam – ed.] is quite old to start a new life.” She countered with “I don’t know, maybe I’ll start a new one tomorrow. Time is an illusion.”

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Film Festival Literary Connections

The New Zealand International Film Festival is coming to Christchurch in August and we recently chatted to the Festival Director, Bill Gosden about cinematic books that inspired him.

Book cover of The new biographical dictionary of filmBill said he was indebted to Dunedin Public Libraries where he had his unofficial film education while at high school. Titles that helped spur his interest in film included:

Take a look at our collection of movie related resources to get some inspiration for your future-film-festival-directing endeavours. If you are more interested in watching films than curating them however, there are a bunch of films in the Festival that have literary connections. We’ve got a list of them on our website, as well as a list of upcoming film and TV adaptations  and a huge list of books that have previously been filmed. Here are some of the highlights:

There are a lot more titles on our list. Let us know in the comments if we have missed any literary connections in this years Festival.

 

NZ International Film Festival programme announced

Cover of the Film Festival brochureThe New Zealand International Film Festival programme has been released and we caught up with its Director, Bill Gosden, to discuss what Christchurch audiences should head out to see.

Bill says this year is the biggest so far for Christchurch Film Festival audiences with over 90 films screening at Hoyts cinemas. Nick Paris (Christchurch publicist for the Festival) described the programme as being filled with “contagious cinematic bling”.

The Festival has films for all ages, including children. The NZIFF received a harsh letter from some 7 year old festival-goers a few years ago who deemed the “Animation for Kids” programme “Animation for BABIES”. In light of that stinging criticism, the festival now provides two animated programmes for kids, one aimed at 3 – 6 year olds: Toons for Tots, and the other aimed at 7 – 10 year olds: Animation for Kids 2014Toons for Tots features adaptations of two popular children’s books: The legend of the golden snail by Australian master Graeme Base and the hilarious I want my hat back by Jon Klassen.

If you’ve been enjoying your movies for longer than 3 – 10 years though, Bill pointed out two movies that star modern cinema legends: Isabelle Huppert in Folies Bergère and Catherine Deneuve in In The Courtyard. If you like your stars more local or literary, here are some films that strike a literary or local chord include:

Book Cover of Selected Works of TS SpivetBill encourages Christchurch cinephiles to take on the Film Festival films. He and his team have spent months viewing over 800 films across the world in order to bring Film Festival audiences “the most interesting films of the year. One effect of being able to bring films digitally to the Festival is that there are quite a few films that viewers haven’t heard much about as they are so new.” Festival attendees have the opportunity to be the first in the world to check them out.

Tickets go on sale Friday 18 July and the Festival runs from 7 – 24 August. On the Film Festival website you can timetable in your viewing pleasures and make sure you don’t double-book yourself. Programmes are also available from our Libraries.