On the eve of the much-feted release of the 30th anniversary restoration of her
pivotal 1993 film Bread and Roses at the New Zealand International Film Festival, 03 caught up
with filmmaker Gaylene Preston to talk childhoods on the West Coast, golden years in
Golden Bay and the urgent importance of saving our cinematic history.
Interview Josie Steenhart
You were born in Greymouth and lived there for the first 10 years of your life…
Greymouth is a great home town for a filmmaker. It is a vivid place. All the blinding white light and dark hills.
My father had a fish ‘n’ chip shop over the road from the railway station, so all the guards would come and get some on the turnaround from Christchurch. In oyster season he always gave them a 13-oyster dozen. This contributed to my family being able to travel through the hill for very little.
My first solo journey was on the ‘chuffer’ train to Christchurch when I was seven, watched over by the guards. A different world. So, I grew up very much attached to Ōtautahi.
Went to art school at Ilam in the ’60s.
I’m a Southern maid with a touch of Hawke’s Bay lurking.
You also lived in Golden Bay…
With my first husband, Andy Dennis, and a dear friend, we bought a beautiful little property in East Tākaka with springs and rampant Californian thistles flowing through.
I would pack the car and head over there as often as I could when my daughter was young. It was my retreat into a very sociable and clever population.
Many friends came and went over the 13 years we were there – Toby Laing and most of Fat Freddy’s [Drop], Bret McKenzie and Hannah Clarke, Laurie Foon and her family, heaps of Bollingers…
Age Pryor and Justin Firefly Clarke came over with musician friends one year and they wrote and recorded The Woolshed Sessions there.
You are only ever the guardian of any land you inhabit. I treasure those friendships I made during that time.
Do you get back to either/both region/s much, and if so, what are some favourite spots?
Black’s Point near Reefton is where I perch most Christmases in the Bollinger/Crayford compound. I have a little teardrop caravan nestled under their veranda. We bathe in the mighty Inangahua River and the extended families hang out and eat from the extensive gardens planted by Helen and Alun.
Reefton Main Street op-shops are my favourite in the world.
I love Tukurua and Milnthorpe in Golden Bay, but I don’t want to say where. A well-kept secret. Dear old friends there.
The remarkable Sonja Davies, who Bread and Roses is about, lived in Nelson for some years, how much of the film is set there?
Most of the second half of Bread and Roses happens in Māpua and around Nelson.
How would you describe Sonja, in a nutshell, if that’s possible?
Someone was just in touch today saying that she found Sonja (Ngāi Tahu) to have had much grace. That, mixed with her staunch ability to persuade in almost any situation, made her an unusual and valuable warrior for women.
Bread and Roses is being re-released at the NZIFF on its 30th anniversary, how do you think it will resonate with new audiences in 2023?
All the themes that Bread and Roses illuminates are even more relevant than they were when we made the film. It’s about babies and birthing and women’s lives; making a stand and not giving in. Fighting for a place to stand.
Tell us about some of the challenges (and triumphs) of the film restoration?
The film was in a very bad state because it was shot on standard 16mm and never had a safety copy negative made. The master negative was rolled too tightly when stored and got badly damaged. The sound was also very patchy.
With funding from the NZ Film Heritage Trust and the expertise that exists at Park Road Post (human and mechanical) over a long period, the film is now better than ever, with every frame digitised, every sound sounding bright and beautiful.
Do any other New Zealand films spring to mind for urgent restoration?
There are many. But I am told that the TV series that were shot in the ’80s – for example Country GP – are not in a good state at all, having been shot on video in the first place.
If we don’t find funding for these treasures they will be lost forever, or only exist as pale shadows.
And any New Zealand books you feel are just begging to be made into films?
Well, there’s one you may have heard of – Gaylene’s Take – an autobiography by my favourite author… I keep thinking about how to translate that onto celluloid.
Bread and Roses screens as part of the New Zealand International Film Festival across New Zealand until September. See nziff.co.nz for screen times, dates and locations.