Film-making is a burgeoning art form in Whanganui with a number of committed players using small budgets and big visions to get their work out to the world.
Liz Wylie talked to some of them to find what drives them and what plans they have for future projects.

Lamp Studios
Abby and Caleb Kingi launched Lamp Studios as a web design and development company in 2012 and quickly expanded to focus more on video production and photography.

Graduates of the Wanganui School of Design, they are life and business partners who never wanted to leave their hometown.

"There was only one guy doing that sort of thing in Whanganui at the time," says Abby.

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"We had to make jobs for ourselves and we knew we would have to be poor for a while."

Low Whanganui overheads and a determination to make it happen have enabled them to build a portfolio of clients that includes local government, business, schools and community groups as well as a growing number of international clients.

Six years later, they have not only created jobs for themselves, but also for Jeremy Cooper, a full-time videographer, photographer and editor at Lamp and they contract others to help with different projects.

Now with a young son, Joseph, they have another reason to stay in Whanganui.

"We would never be able to afford what we have here if we lived in Auckland."

While the Kingis have never left, other players have returned to Whanganui where they have been making magic for the big screen.

Double Farley
Melita Farley returned to Whanganui with her English-born partner, Kevin Double, and they combined their names to form a company.

Double Farley is in the business of creating adult-learning experiences, running events, and facilitating organisational and communication development activities as well as making films.

The couple met in Wellington and Double, from Colchester in the UK, is enchanted with Whanganui and its mighty awa.

"I nearly drove Melita mad with repeated playings of Carly Simon's song Let the River Run when we moved here," he says. "I would love to make a Whanganui video with crowds of people singing it in English and te reo." It is one of many projects the "life-long story teller" would take on if a wealthy benefactor came to town and offered him a budget. Despite funding limitations, Double Farley have produced two recent documentary films telling Whanganui stories and both have been selected for the International DocEdge Film Festival. In 2017 Set In Stone, the story which followed the restoration of war hero Herewini Whakarua's statue at Pakaitore, won the DocEdge special mention best New Zealand feature and best emerging New Zealand film-maker categories at the festival.

This year has seen A Home in this World, a short documentary film made with Wairarapa-based director Juanita Deely, selected for screening.

The film's subject, writer Robin Hyde, lived in Whanganui for a time and was a reporter at the Wanganui Chronicle.

Kevin and Melita say the editing of A Home in this World, was done in Whanganui where high- speed fibre made the job easier.

"It's one of the advantages of working here and it meant we were able to work with the director using high-resolution screen-sharing technologies rather than having to travel back and forth."

Opportunities for collaboration are another attractive quality of living in Whanganui they say.

Let the river run Let all the dreamers Wake the nation Come, the New Jerusalem
Let the River Run – Carly Simon
The Theatre Connection

Karen Craig, another English import, arrived in Whanganui as an actress and became a director.

Wanting to mark the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death, she approached the Bason Botanic Gardens Trust about staging a play and, when it agreed, she also agreed to direct it.

The 2016 production of Macbeth was a resounding success as was The Tempest in January this year.

Now Craig plans to make a foray into film and collaborate with Double Farley to produce films using AR (Augmented Reality) technology to tell Whanganui stories.

"I will be recruiting the actors and directing while Kevin and Melita do the filming," says Craig.

"There are so many stories in Whanganui and I love the idea of recreating them and having them recorded."

Stories like the one of Mayor Mackay and his shooting of Darcy Cresswell in his offices on Ridgeway St.

Double says filming with AR is a new thing for Double Farley and they are excited at the prospect.

The Weta Connection
Costume designer Lee Williams started her career in film here in Whanganui, working on Vincent Ward's The River Queen in 2004.

She had studied fashion design at Wanganui Polytechnic and the opportunity came at a perfect moment for her.

The experience ultimately led her away from her home town and to work on Peter Jackson's 2005 King Kong movie followed by years of working at Weta Workshops and international blockbusters.

Lee Willimas and special effects whiz Jason Docherty prepare and actor for his role in the film Elysian at Weta Workshops.
Lee Willimas and special effects whiz Jason Docherty prepare and actor for his role in the film Elysian at Weta Workshops.

Then came work at the World of Wearable Arts, New Zealand Ballet and theatre productions and the Opera School in Whanganui where she has now returned.

The passion has rubbed off on the next generation and Lee's son, Jharaiz Kiriona-Williams has caught the film bug.

Kiriona-Williams has been an actor and film-maker in Sydney but now lives in Taranaki and recently landed a role in Kriv Stenders' (Red Dog) upcoming film Danger Close.

"I'm so pleased for him," says Lee. "My kids grew up seeing all these people in scary costumes and Jharaiz always loved it."

Williams is still working on film contracts and says if she could make a film of her own in Whanganui it would be centred around the awa.

"I think it would be wonderful to make a film about local legends like the story of taniwha Tūtaeporoporo and all those other wonderful tales.

"Knowing my influences, it would probably have an operatic quality to it as well."

Bludgeon - The Film
Andy Deere and Ryan Heron's film Bludgeon is currently screening around the world and getting enthusiastic reviews after NZ Film Festival screenings.

The two grew up in Whanganui and attended Cullinane College when it was named St Augustine's.

Martainn Cuff was one of their schoolmates who grew up to become a passionate medieval fighter and is now captain of Taranaki team the Steel Thorns.

Deere and Heron made a short documentary version of Bludgeon in 2016 and it was good enough to win support from the National Film Commision to make the feature-length version.

"We followed Martainn and his team to the world championships in Denmark," says Deere.

"Ryan is now living overseas, but I am based in Whanganui and I like to be here as much as I can."

It hasn't been easy lately as he has been jetting around New Zealand and overseas for premiere screenings of Bludgeon.

We caught up with him briefly while he was spending a bit of time with his 3-year-old daughter, Iris.

"I would like to make a film in Whanganui," he says. "Something based around the river and featuring local people."

All the people interviewed this time said they would like to make the Whanganui River the focus of a future project if there was funding available.

The river's legal status as a person, bestowed under a unique Treaty settlement last year is worthy of cinematic acknowledgement they say.

"What would the awa say?" asked Lee Williams. "What stories would we hear?"

E rere kau mai te awa nui nei
Mai i te kāhui maunga ki Tangaroa
Ko au te awa
Ko te awa ko au.

The river flows
From the mountains to the sea
I am the river
The river is me.