By MICHELE HEWITSON
To get to the door of Peter Wells' house, you go up the drive and through the second hole in the hedge. How very Narnia. You expect to see a faun tiptoeing through the bromeliads, or a faun prancing beneath the palms, perhaps.
"I know it sounds esoteric," says Wells, the film maker and writer, but, really, the directions are simply the best way to describe the best way to find his place.
You can tell he likes giving them, and they are a nice introduction to the writer's world, in which everything is beautiful and there are lots of lovely things to look at.
So you slip through the second hole in the fence, through the sub-tropical garden, and Wells comes to the door in his tapestry slippers, tartan trousers and comfy jumper.
His house smells of lilies and new books and he shares it with his cat, Miss Flounce.
The tea cups are Minton, the teapot is silver. The Dutch apple cake is homemade, the napkins are linen.
Peter Wells likes to do things properly. He likes little ceremonies. He is also terribly fond of lovely things.
His new film, "my funny little film" called Friendship is the Harbour of Joy, screens at the film festival (on July 18 at 11am and July 21 at 10.30am) and opens with Wells filming close-ups of somebody else's lovely things.
He is filming inside the Wellington house of Jonathan Dennis, the broadcaster who set up the New Zealand Film Archive and who died in 2002.
They were great friends, and while Dennis was dying Wells thought he would make "portrait of the house as a sort of portrait of him".
"What happens when someone dies is that one of the things that disappears, that nobody really thinks about, is the way people arrange their houses. I think you find that almost everyone arranges what they regard as precious into almost altar shapes, and with Jonathan that was very heightened."
We are talking about Wells' lovely things, because he has long been interested in what the things we have around our houses tell about us.
The Minton cups he first "imagined" when he was writing his novel Iridescence. He had his characters drinking out of similar cups while taking afternoon tea and then he saw the cups - the ones we are drinking from - at an auction and "so I had to have them".
Of the two Richard McWhannell paintings of draped fabric, exercises in texture and form, on a wall of his writing room, he says he has owned one for years and the other came up at a Webbs sale this year.
Wells bought it with money Dennis "very kindly" left him in his will.
The little Biedermeier card table and the French clock that sits on it belonged to his brother Russell, who died in 1989 - "he had marvellous taste" - and left Wells this house. "Continuity's a good thing," he says.
His film is about continuity, too. Dennis is the man who made sure that our film memories would be archived. Now Wells has, in a sense, archived Dennis. "In a way it is a record of someone who did contribute a lot to our culture."
Wells sees the role of the film maker as partly that of a historian.
He studied history at the University of Auckland under Keith Sinclair and Judith Binney, so "I've always been aware of archiving things and saving things. We're a bit of a casual culture, or we have been a bit of a casual culture, about saving stuff for the future".
"With Jonathan's house, it's a kind of moment in history. It was a very interesting Pacifica look, it's a real moment in the history of decor."
At least that was what Wells intended before Dennis asked his film-maker friend to film him dying.
"I said it wasn't what I had intended," we are told in the film, "but I'd see what I could do."
In the end he couldn't do it. "I did make an absolute decision to stop filming at a certain point. I thought it was injurious to his dignity. And I don't think there's much point knowing that end process really, because the person dying has got no control over it, obviously, and I didn't want to go into it."
Instead, he has made a film of the story of Dennis' friendship with Witarina, a Maori woman in her 90s who was the star of a silent film made 70 years ago.
She became a sort of second mother to Dennis and caught the bus from Rotorua to Wellington to move in with him as he died.
So Wells' film is not so much a film about dying as it is a continuation of his interest in what he calls "mix and match" families, and it is another of his odes to domesticity.
Which brings us back to the room we are sitting in, where I am asking Wells about his mother. She will be very pleased, I imagine, that Wells has made a film about somebody else's family.
It's a funny thing about this film that many people who listened to Dennis on Radio NZ talking about film and had never met him but thought they knew him, will now meet him - just before he dies.
Likewise, Wells' mother is known to anyone who has read Wells' autobiographical writings or seen his reflection on his childhood, Pansy. We've never met her but we feel we know her.
Wells has spent a great deal of his adult life "outing her".
"She'll be relieved," says Wells, that this film is not about her. And she is, by the way, great.
"She's still driving. I won't say how old she is because she says, 'Why do you keep telling people how old I am? They won't want to play bridge with me; they'll think I'm too old'."
She will also, no doubt, be relieved that Wells, who outed himself by being one of our first writers to publish a work of gay fiction under his own name, has not made another of his gay films.
In Pansy she mildly chastises her son: "Pete, Pete, can't you stop talking about gay things? Is that all you know?" God only knows what she thinks of the cat's name.
It is a very pretty cat. You can't imagine Wells entertaining the idea of an ugly moggy, although he is a soft touch - Miss Flounce turned up as a starving stray - and he is compiling a book of writing by New Zealanders about cats. Which, never mind the "gay things" writing, should make him a fortune, I tell him.
But he does "like things to be beautiful. They feed the soul, I think, and provide a vision of what life could be like".
And I say, "Oh what a shame Jonathan can't see the film", meaning that he would have loved to have seen his lovely things in a film.
We both laugh at the sad incongruity because the whole point, of course, is that the film was made because of his dying. And Wells shakes his head and says, "Yes it is a shame. Because I made it for him".
New Zealand International Film Festival
By MICHELE HEWITSON