Bill Gosden reading a speech at an event.

Thanks and best wishes, Bill Gosden

28 Mar 2019
It’s hard to overstate how important Bill Gosden is to New Zealand film culture.

“Bill has selected films for 40 years – that’s incredible,” says Diane Pivac, Principal Curator at Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision (and the Film Archive before that), who has worked with Gosden for decades. “His curation is amazing, with something for everyone. He’s really good at taking himself out of the equation: ‘I might not like this film, but I know other people will.’”

The long-term Director of the New Zealand International Film Festival (NZIFF), Gosden retired recently. For four decades he’s been a major part of the New Zealand film industry. “He’s hugely supportive of New Zealand film and very aware of the role the Festival plays. Having a premiere at NZIFF is really important for local filmmakers – it gives them the ability to apply for other festivals and gives a bit of gravitas, a certain clout. It means they will get New Zealand screenings and will lead to a longer release run.”

Gosden and the curatorial team think long and hard about what to programme and are inclusive. Bill is really insightful about audiences and really champions them. “He’s really prescient. I remember when Two Cars, One Night by a then-unknown Taika Waititi was endorsed by Bill, he said ‘this is going places, it’ll do really well’. I said, ‘I don’t want to watch the feature, but can I stay for that short?’ We stood at the back of the cinema – and as Bill predicted, the crowd were very impressed.”

A young Bill Gosden sits behind a messy desk in the office of the NZIF in the 00s.

Bill Gosden, Director of NZIFF, in the 1980s.

It’s previously been noted that he watches hundreds of films a year. “He remembers them, too!” says Diane. “He’s an extraordinary watcher of film and has an extraordinary body of knowledge.” Lots of filmmakers give their films to Bill before they’re finished. He can make really helpful suggestions: editing this part or that.

Bill was also very supportive of early New Zealand films, which is important because silent films can be difficult if an audience isn’t used to them. As early films were preserved by the Archive, they could then be innovatively presented as part of the Film Festival. “One of my absolute favourites was Under the Southern Cross, which had Himiona Grace, Warren Maxwell and Maaka MacGregor providing a modern accompaniment to a 1927 film”, remembers Diane.

Ngā Taonga has always worked closely with the Festival. The Archive is a member of the International Federation of Film Archives (FIAF) which provides crucial access to some films. “To bring in physical film prints from overseas you needed to be a FIAF member. It was the only way for everyone to see these masterpieces of cinema, as they weren’t generally released for any other reason. And it’s an awesome way for Archive staff to learn more about the FIAF network and what was going on overseas.”

That film industry connection was helpful in other ways too. In the pre-Internet era, images, reviews and documentation for film was much trickier to source. The former Film Archive had magazine subscriptions to Variety, Sight & Sound and Film Comment. “The Festival would call saying, ‘have you got anything for film X or Y?’ And if we did, we’d fax it over.”

The Festival provided opportunities for the Archive to try new ideas. “During the 1996 ‘Centenary of Cinema’ we had a magic lantern show at Bats Theatre, it was part of NZIFF and sold out two nights. We thought it was quite interesting to do something pre-cinema and the Festival was very supportive. We had raconteur Bill Main in a top hat and tails running the show like a real vaudeville performer.”

“Another time Bill also brought British pianist and composer Neil Brand to New Zealand. Because of the good relationship with the Festival, he stayed on and ran some masterclasses at the Archive on how to score music to silent films.”

Perhaps a masterclass of Gosden’s own would be a good project for life after the Festival. Diane suggested, “you know those books like How to Look at a Painting? I’d always thought that Bill could write a great How to Watch a Film book.”

From all of us at the Archive, thanks so much Bill for the films, support and memories. All best wishes for a wonderful retirement.

Hero image: Bill Gosden. Photo by Rebecca McMillan Photography.