Of the many films that make up New Zealand director Jane Campion's filmography, only two are New Zealand stories, produced in New Zealand. They are: An Angel At My Table (1990) and The Piano (1993). The Piano was made with finance provided by French production company CiBy 2000, who sought to invest in a range of films made by experienced and new talented film directors. The Piano was made by an Australian production company, so technically The Piano does not qualify as a New Zealand film. (Film in Aotearoa 1996 pp 183-184) A case could be made for The Piano to be included in a study of New Zealand cinema because of the creative control afforded Campion by the investors, the cultural relevancy of the subject matter, and the New Zealanders involved in making the film. Conversely An Angel At My Table was made with a majority of funding from the New Zealand Film Commission, and by a New Zealand production company.
Pertinent to the Film Commission investment is the fact that profits from the film are re-invested in the New Zealand film industry. An Angel At My Table is the story of author Janet Frame. Her contribution to the literary arts provides a very significant component of New Zealand cultural heritage. Frame's writing is renowned for the way it delves into the darker side of the human psyche, and provides an interesting parallel to the 'dark' reputation of films produced in New Zealand. The cultural significance of Frame's work in New Zealand also makes any links between her and film making in New Zealand relevant and interesting areas for study. Because Angel is a New Zealand product in its entirety, it is the most appropriate of all Campion's films to include in a study of film in New Zealand.
Angel was made by Auckland based Hibiscus films, and relied heavily on New Zealand talent for making the film. It was produced by New Zealander Bridget Ik in and co-produced by John Maynard. Because of the 'New Zealandness' of the story, Angel provided roles for many Kiwi actors. It established the career of Kerry Fox, who went on to act in many critically acclaimed films (amongst them, Shallow Grave (1994) and Welcome to Sarajevo (1997), and more recently the French production, Intimacy (2000) ). In true New Zealand fashion, Campion even managed to find a role for her thespian mother, Edith Campion. Creative and technical roles on the film were filled by Kiwi talent, backed up with a New Zealand crew.
Of the $2.8 million dollar budget, the New Zealand Film Commission contributed $2.7 million. The remainder was contributed by Television New Zealand, Australian Broadcasting Corporation and Channel 4. Angel proved to be a healthy investment for the Film Commission. The worldwide earnings for Angel topped $5.1 million, providing the commission with a $3.6 million dollar return. Angel is one of the Commission's highest grossing films, second only to Once Were Warriors (1994, Dir. L. Tama hori). (L. Shelton per. comm. 19/10/01) Financial success is by no means a definitive gauge by which to measure a films relevancy for study, it is however a interesting point to raise when the flow-on effect of this profit is taken into consideration.
Any profit made by the Film Commission gets re-invested in more New Zealand films. Of the 62 productions made in New Zealand between 1991 and 2000 72% received at least some support from the Film Commission. Obviously this support cannot solely be attributed to the profits received from Angel, but there are a wide variety of projects included in that list and it highlights the benefit to New Zealand feature films as a whole if the Film Commission is in a healthy financial position. (Film Commission Handout, Feature Films made in NZ since 1940 - By year Sep 2000) Angel was originally intended to be a three-part television series, however after being so well received by festival audiences, Campion was persuaded to release it in cinemas. Angel won a record number of awards at overseas film festivals. The first New Zealand film to be selected for entry at the prestigious Venice Film Festival, the film went on to scoop a record seven awards at the 1990 festival, including the Special Jury Prize.
In this same year Angel was selected for show at the New York Film Festival (a non-competition based festival). After winning numerous Australasian prizes Angel went on to more international success at the 1991 Berlin Festival, winning the 'Most Popular Film' prize. A total of nineteen awards was capped at the Belgium Festival where it won 'Film of The Year' These accolades led to Sales of Angel for theatrical release in Australia, the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Sweden, Spain and Japan. This worldwide exposure of a New Zealand film contributes substantial 'kudos' to, and recognition of, the New Zealand film industry. Film Commission Marketing Director Lindsay Shelton is reported saying: "If anyone in the world still didn't know about New Zealand films, the Venice and the New York showings would give them a more detailed impression of what New Zealand is like and what New Zealand can do" (Evening Post 1.9. 90) Angel has helped establish a reputation for the developing film culture in New Zealand.
Not only did the film industry in New Zealand receive a boost from Angel's success, so too did New Zealand's cultural reputation. Many of the countries that bought cinema release rights for the film arranged for the republishing of Frame's books to be released in conjunction with the film. Frame's novels gained access to a new and wider audience. Frame's biographer Michael King notes a steady stream of reprints of her books after the release of the film, especially those translated into foreign language editions - "undreamed of ten years previously" (King, 2000, p 497) As the work of one of New Zealand's authors seeps into new places so to does awareness of the cultural identity of the nation. The films subject, author Janet Frame, is the second reason why Angel is appropriate for inclusion in a study of New Zealand film. Frame's work has contributed significantly to the cultural identity developing in post-colonial New Zealand.
Owen Marshall, the novelist, from Frames home town of Oamaru, is recorded stating: "Almost every town, moor, lake, city, street, or railway station has its reference in British literature; famous or obscure, but an aura all the same. I had a strong feeling as I read the first volume of Janet Frame's autobiography, that it is such books which are enriching the literary associations of our own country and in this instance our own town of Oamaru... [This] book has special piquancy and adds in a subtle way to our relationship with the place in which we live. (King, 2000, p 455) Frame has received considerable recognition for her writing, having won almost all major awards in New Zealand literature. The first and last two books of the autobiographical trilogy recieved the Wattle Book Award. The middle book An Angel At My Table recieved the New Zealand Book Award.
Frame was awarded the Commonwealth Writers Prize in 1989 for her novel The Carpathians. She was awarded the CBE for her services to literature in 1983, the Order of New Zealand in 1990, the country's highest civic award. The documentation of the life and times of this internationally renowned author, especially one which has been executed in the spirited but sensitive manner that has been shown in Angel, is a valuable cultural resource. In the Centenary of Cinema trailer Cinema of Unease Sam Neill identifies a dark undercurrent to the films produced in New Zealand.
Frame's writing also conveys deep human emotion and suffering. Disquiet in the minds of characters is the primary subject matter for her books. After reading Frames novel Owls Do Cry Australian novelist Patrick White made this comment: "The Withers family [the central characters of Owls Do Cry] revealed a characteristic despair and confusion under the simple, uncomplicated New Zealand surface. I shouldn't be surprised if any New Zealander took a gun to his neighbour. Guns to New Zealanders are what axes are to Poles" (King, 2000, p 243) Apart from her autobiography, A State of Siege is the only book of Frame's to be adapted for the screen. A State of Siege was directed by Vincent Ward in 1978.
The film was a project of Ward's while he was studying fine art at Canterbury University. Frame has been reluctant so see her work make it to the screen. Prior to Angel she had been approached by both John O'Shea and Patrick Cox who wished to make a feature film out of her novel Owls Do Cry. She declined both offers, stating that she was uncomfortable with the idea of having the story turned into a commercial film. (King, 2000, pp 412,421) Consequently A State of Siege provides the only tangible link (apart from the autobiography) between Frame's writing and the cinematic phenomenon Neill recognises in New Zealand cinema. However it is possible to see her contributing to the mythological construct of New Zealand as a nation brooding with madness under the surface.
With Angel Frame offered her co-operation and support during the making of the film. Frame was consulted on matters of casting and had final approval on the script. King reports how much Frame enjoyed spending a week watching the shooting of the film, after which she said: "I'm full of admiration for the talent and dedication of all the crew" (King, 2000, p 484) Frame described Laura Jones's script as "luminously beautiful" (King, 2000, p 484) Frame maintained her satisfaction with the completed film. After viewing the film, Frame commented: "When you write you do not have the same financial constraints placed on film-making, but within its own limits it found its own freedom and did it splendidly. For me that is a sign of excellence" (Evening Post 24/7/90) Frames approval of the film heightens the prestige attached to the film, enhancing the authenticity, and securing its status as a national treasure. As a film, Angel deals frankly with Frames time in mental institutions, and fits into the paradigms of New Zealand cinema outlined by Neill.
Interestingly, the scenes in the mental institution are the only diversion and embellishment from the original autobiography. As this component was absent from the autobiography, Campion chose to dramatis e mental hospital scenes published in Frame's earlier novel Faces in the water. (King, 2000, pp 475-476) Campion's intention with the film however, was to break down the 'mad writer' connotations associated with Frame. After reading Frame's autobiography Campion was deeply touched with Frame's ability to describe a New Zealand childhood. Also learning of her misdiagnosed schizophrenia, the subsequent eight year stay in mental institutions and the near miss with a lobotomy, Campion felt compelled to debunk the myth of Frames mental illness and celebrate her talent as a writer. In an interview with Campion, published in The Guardian, Campion describes her intention for the film: ."..
I grew up with Janet's fiction and I was very familiar with her legend as New Zealand's mad writer. A lot of us thought her work was the result of her supposed schizophrenia... but then I found the three autobiographies painfully unravel this myth, and I wanted to make the story of her life available as widely as possible". (The Guardian 26/09/90) Indeed, it appears the inspiration for the film was not only the myth surrounding Frames persona, but Frames particular skill at capturing and expressing an aspect of New Zealand life. In a interview with Michel Cement, Campion spoke of Frames book To the Island: "It awakened my own memories of my childhood; her book really seemed to me to be a essay on childhood in New Zealand. I loved it; it was very emotional, and I wanted to share this experience with a large number of people". (V. Wright Wexman ed., 1999, p 63) With a potently strong New Zealand essence at the core of it, Campion has returned to the country of her origin for Angel. Angel highlights how sucessful we can be when we look to the work of talented New Zealand authors for cinematic inspiration.
Campion has made a New Zealand film that exposes and explores part of the cultural identity of this country. Frame's work has provided heartfelt documentation of growing up in post-depression New Zealand. Historically, Frame has provided us with an understanding of New Zealand's evolving attitudes towards family life, education, women, treatment of mental illness, experiences of writing and the New Zealand writing community. Invaluable historical information for which we can be greatful to have such a talented New Zealand woman to articulate in the first place, and then another capable of capturing it on screen. By happy coincidence not only is Angel spiritually grounded in New Zealand but fiscally as well.
Of Campion's two New Zealand films, Angel provides the best example of the New Zealand film industry producing a self sustaining film. Angel's financial success went on to benefit others in the industry and also drew attention to the high level of skill and craftsmanship in the New Zealand film industry. Angel provides a shining example of the benefits gained by the film industry when a New Zealand film does well overseas. Whether there will be an opportunity to consider one of Campions future films as suitable for inclusion in the study of New Zealand films remains to be seen. What also remains to be seen is how many Kiwi film makers learn Campion's key to sucess with Angel, and look to tell stories penned by one of the countries many literary greats. Filmography (Films viewed as research on this project.
Chronological order.) A State of Siege, Dir. V. Ward, Pro. T. White, (Canterbury University, School of Fine Arts), 1978. Peel, Dir., writer and editor, J. Campion, (Australian Film and Television School), 1982. A Girls Own Story, Dir., writer, J. Campion, (Australian Film and Television School), 1983. Passionless Moments, Co-pro., Co-dir. and Screenplay J. Campion, G. Lee, (Australian Film and Television School), 1984, Sweetie, Dir., J. Campion, Co-written J. Campion, G. Lee, (Arena Films), 1989. An Angel at My Table, Dir., J. Campion, Screenplay, L. Jones, (Hibiscus Films), 1990. The Piano, Dir., J. Campion, Screenplay, J. Campion, Pro., J. Chapman, (CiBy 2000), 1993.
Portrait of a Lady, Dir., J. Campion, Screenplay, L. Jones, Co-pro., M. Montgomery, M. Turnbull, A. Wingate (Gramercy Pictures), 1996. Holy Smoke, Dir., J. Campion, Co-written, J. Campion, A. Campion, Pro., J. Chapman, (Miramax), 1993. Cinema of Unease, Co-dir., S. Neill, J. Rymer, Co-written, S. Neill, J. Rymer, (Top Shelf), 1995.
alphabetical by author) Ed. J, Bieringa, J. Dennis, Film in Aotearoa - Would-be Warriors, Peter Calder, 1996, pp 183-184) M.
Derek, 26/09/90 The unravelling of a mad myth, The Guardian, London, England. Film Commission Handout (provided in class), Feature Films made in NZ since 1940 - By year, Sep 2000.
King, Michael. Wrestling with the Angel. A life of Janet Frame. Penguin Books, New Zealand, 2000.
Ed. V, Wright Wexman, Jane Campion Interviews, University Press Mississippi, 1999.