Kids watching a Ngā Taonga Cinema Screening.

Farewell, Ngā Taonga Cinema

4 Feb 2019
So long cinema, and thanks for all the screenings. For more than 14 years, the cinema at the Wellington office of Ngā Taonga hosted thousands of screenings.

By David Klein

Easily one of New Zealand’s most eclectic theatres, it showed hundreds of different film and television titles, and welcomed hundreds of thousands of visitors. Alongside standard feature films, it also hosted presentations, event openings, conferences, debates, panel discussions, live music, play readings, memorial events and screenings for education, community and seniors groups.

This was a space that screened what few others could. Following the rapid ascent of digital cinema, Ngā Taonga retained the equipment and expertise to present screenings on film. With 35mm, 16mm and 8mm film projectors we could screen formats that almost no other cinema could. With its large archival collection, Ngā Taonga also has access to titles long out of print or distribution. (Read about these screenings with projectionist Oscar Halberg.)

During its life, the cinema ran the NZ Feature Project, which aimed to screen every surviving New Zealand feature film. As it described itself, ‘Rather than starting with My Lady of the Cave, our earliest surviving feature (1922) and working forward chronologically, or running alphabetically from A Soldier’s Tale to Zilch!, mini seasons were curated to present the huge range of features held by the Archive.’ This curation was ambitious.

Hero image: Mini-Size Square Eyes screening. Photo by Tabitha Arthur.

Pasifika filmmakers at the Moana Symposium.

Pasifika filmmakers at the Moana Symposium – Whetu Fala, Tusi Tamasese, Karin Williams, Victor Rodger, Nathaniel Lees, Makerita Urale and Sima Urale. Photo by Mishelle Muagututi’a.

Director retrospectives featured the work of Geoff Murphy, David Blyth, Merata Mita and others. Science fiction, horror and documentary were just some of the genre-specific seasons or festivals held at the cinema. Themes and topics explored the collections through a different lens, including ‘Motor Sport Memories’, a regular bike festival and films that had been censored. Celebrating significant national events or dates provided chances to work alongside others, for events such as Matariki and Suffrage commemorations. The Archive also welcomed guest curation from notable individuals from the film and heritage sector, including Whetu Fala, Lindsay Shelton, Kirsty Cameron and Annie Collins to name a few.

Many times silent film was accompanied by piano and other ‘live cinema’ events were held. A notable example is Pacific Underground accompanying silent Pacific film. World War One footage was joined by live piano with narration by military historian Dr Chris Pugsley. Ngā Taonga worked with experimental filmmakers to host events that pushed the edges of cinema – layered visuals, magic lantern projections, the Wellington Underground Film Festival. This range of events crossed over into the Ngā Taonga Mediagallery, a space which showcased video art and collection items until 2015.

In addition to classic and archival films, hundreds of younger film fans would have had their first cinema experience at a Mini-Sized Square Eyes screening. Working with the Square Eyes Film Foundation, these events presented a huge selection of quality films for the young and young-at-heart.

Nga-Taonga Cinema.

View from the back – the cinema at Ngā Taonga. Photo by Tabitha Arthur.

Some of the busiest days at Te Anakura were hosting the numerous film festivals. The New Zealand International Film Festival was a regular fixture from 2004 onwards. Some days would see five back-to-back screenings – a major test for front of house and projection staff! We were also pleased to connect with different embassies and cultural groups. Free passes always proved a hot ticket for the well-attended Japanese, German, Dutch and Brazilian Film Festivals

Amidst all this activity, Ngā Taonga had a core group of regular punters who would come along, regardless of the screening. We’d ike to thank them for their support, loyalty and for helping to keep the buzz in the cinema and café alive and well.