Hobbit Premiere Day

My city is going bananas today. There’s a frenzy of excitement around the premiere of the first Hobbit movie, with the red carpet TV coverage due to begin in an hour or so. There’s also a frenzy of grump as long-simmering negativity finally boils up around such issues as the cultural worth of the movie, the government’s priorities, our tourism branding and sense of identity, and Peter Jackson’s reputation as a nice guy.

There’s also a lot of people who aren’t fussed either way, but you don’t hear much from them.

Me, I’m happy to sit with the positives. I have time for many of the grumpy-type issues (apparently there’s gonna be a book on the Hobbit labour dispute? would be good to read that and try and figure out if I had it right or if I was a victim of an effective spin machine) – but when I think about the Hobbit, mostly I think about the people I know who worked on it. There’s a lot of them. It’s a rare Wellingtonian who doesn’t know any, in fact, and that’s exactly the point. This is a creative cultural product that’s come out of our local film setup, drawing on the expertise of many friends and countless friends-of-friends. I like it when my friends and my community do cool stuff.

So bring it on. I’ll have the telly on for the coverage. I’ll be particularly looking forward to Sylvester McCoy’s jaunt down the red carpet, and Barry Humphries. And I’ll raise a glass in respect to my friends who’ve put love and labour into this project. Nice work, folks. I look forward to seeing the result.

James Hansen talk – Wgtn tonight

Dr. James Hansen, one of the world’s most prominent and influential climate scientists, is in New Zealand to deliver his lecture “Climate Change: a scientific, moral and legal issue”. Tonight – in Wgtn.

Mon 16th May: Wellington
5.45pm public lecture Rutherford House, welcomed by Mayor Celia Wade-Brown

Worth seeing. No question. More info.

The Examiner

W-town’s got some new independent media: The Examiner launched yesterday. The mission is to “look deeper and think harder” which, in an era of frankly embarrassing daily newspapers, sounds worthwhile to me. It’s “peer-edited” and they’re encouraging participation from anyone nearby.

Sounds like a great Wgtn-focused companion to Scoop’s lively Werewolf monthly. Also, another good example of traditional media channels being challenged from the grassroots. Help it find its audience and take a look!

(Of course, this being W-town, two of the three launch articles interview friends of mine, and I know half of the listed contributors as well. Wellington isn’t small exactly, but it sure is densely interconnected.)

Hobbit Trouble

@publicaddress: TrendsMap over Wellington tonight

So the word from those in the biz is that filming on The Hobbit has already been lost to NZ. The decision has been made to take it elsewhere – 3News said Ireland. This afternoon and evening the local film industry types, summonsed to a meeting by Richard Taylor himself, decided to get their voice heard about the risk to the NZ film industry.

The source of the trouble is an NZ actor’s union dispute. It is, to be frank, too complex for me to understand, let alone summarize. (Theatreview has a big set of links tracking the whole thing, and Steve Hickey tries to make sense of it all.) In fact, my impression is that the actor/union side of the dispute is incoherent. I haven’t seen a concise statement of the problem anywhere. There are claims that it’s an Aussie union, perhaps backed by a US union, trying to get NZ on to the same playing field.

But it’s safe to say that losing The Hobbit wasn’t the goal of the actors who came in on the union side. Especially because if that goes, then it’s hard to see any other major shooting jobs coming here in future. NZs film industry would wither, fast, reduced to digital effects and post-production work.

So what the heck has gone wrong? This has got much bigger, with much more at stake, than anyone expected. My take, for whatever it’s worth, is that the entire NZ scene has become pawns in a bigger game. The actors (who I’m sure have real concerns) have been pulled into a unionisation debate by overseas agencies which have clear incentives to bring NZ into line with their approach, regardless of the outcome for NZ. This dispute has then fed opposition within the studio to filming in NZ as opposed to other, cheaper locations – it is a pretext for running the numbers again and forcing a move elsewhere. The big players are international. The NZ scene is almost a sideshow in its own story.

This is a bit of a harsh critique in that it denies real agency to the local actors. Am I really justified in seeing the actors’ demands as problematic because they haven’t issued a clear public statement of their goals? If so, it doesn’t speak well of the capacity of actors to manage their own affairs.

That said, I think it’s undeniable that the actors have demonstrated no strategic leadership throughout this affair. The lack of public communication is one aspect, but even simply making a clear case has been a challenge.

And I should also emphasize that I’m sympathetic to the aims of a union. Unions are important tools for social equity – that’s clearcut.

My concern is that this union dispute, at this time, on this issue, is surely having consequences that those caught up in it did not intend. Sitting back and saying the decision to go to Ireland was driven by WB wanting to save money and not by the actors’ demands – well, it might make you feel better, but it doesn’t change the fact that the industry’s gone. The truth is, obviously, that the film industry globally is a haven for exploitative practices. There are good reasons why contracting is the default here in Wgtn and wider NZ, and yes that contracting will sometimes lead to exploitation, but the situation is complex enough that simplistic “workers need a union” claims won’t necessarily turn out to be appropriate. These complex reasons need to be addressed. This would be suggested by pragmatism, and also by awareness of the large interrelated nature of the film industry – if part of it goes, it all goes.

There are many other aspects of this sad tale that could be addressed – the dearth of leadership from the Beehive, for example. But I’m going to go to sleep instead, for I am tired and my eyes are droopy. Here’s hoping that the film can get tied down in this country after all.

EDITED TO ADD: a big post from industry worker Dan on this stuff.

ALSO: Radio NZ interviews with Fran Walsh, Pip Boyens, Helen Kelly, Dave Brown

Robyn Malcolm interview audio in the sidebar on the Stuff story

Russell Brown pulls the threads together: Anatomy of a Shambles

EDITED 5.50pm: Helen Kelly comments on Russell’s post, and Russell replies with exactly the right question.

Dan, of that link just above, was interviewed on bFM midday or so. I thought he did very well indeed. His post has been generating lots of discussion and comment.

(I wrote this post just after midnight last night. I think it stands up pretty well after a long day of charged conversation and reportage. Still no idea what’s going to happen to “Wellywood”…)

EDITED 9pm: via Jack of TallPoppy, some people who were there claim the “Robyn Malcolm abused/police escort needed” story is a fabrication

Our Former Mayor is a dunce

[edited to add “former” to the title. She’s gone, baby, gone! And for the record I vote for the Hutt mayor, but still feel Wgtn mayor’s power…]

Kerry really doesn’t like our single transferable vote system.
“At this stage, Celia [Wade-Brown] can’t beat me, but STV can. I don’t think members of the public have really understood the system. Some do, but the majority don’t understand.”

What an imbecilic comment. Of course people understand what they need to: you order the candidates into a list showing your preference. It just takes a while to work out which name appears highest on the most lists. I mean Kerry, you’ve been at the front end of local government for a long time, surely you understand –

“As they drop off, if you support one of the losing candidates, you get a second vote, whereas my supporters only got one vote.”

– or maybe not. As the kids say these days: FAIL.

This is Kaibosh

My friends George and Robyn have been hard at work the last few years on starting a charity. I think it’s pretty amazing. They are behind Kaibosh, and what they do is collect surplus food from retailers (so it doesn’t get chucked into landfill) and deliver it to charities working with people who could do with a bonus meal.

That’s pretty much the whole deal – there is leftover food at place A, and hungry peeps at place B, so they make the connection. Simple premise, but (as always) a complex mission in the real world.

George sez:

We wrangled a few friends to become members of our board of trustees and have spent the last 18-months trying to raise funding to increase the scale of our efforts. Our main support has come from Wellington City Council and the Lotteries Commission. With their help we’ve leased an office on Holland Street and hired a part-time Operations Manager. We’re now able to step up our operations (to date we only pick up food from Simply Paris and Wishbone) and hopefully expand our volunteer base (currently sits at six non-trustees).

That is how you walk the walk in this world. I give this whole enterprise one mighty double-rainbow-all-the-way thumbs up. Kaibosh is having a launch party at their HQ tonight at 6pm – come along if you’re in W-town, and eat some of the food, which is of course donated from local businesses.

Kaibosh website
Kaibosh on Facebook

Pecha Kucha Diamond Necklace

Monday night at Downstage Theatre in Welly: my dear friend Eric is part of the Pecha Kucha lineup, talking about the show wot I wrote, Affair of the Diamond Necklace.

A Pecha Kucha night is an event format in which presenters show a slideshow of 20 images, each of which is shown for 20 seconds. Pecha Kucha Wgtn details here. Door sales only, $9 cash – Downstage Theatre, doors open: 6.30pm, start 7.30pm.

Be great to see people there. I won’t be online again until Tuesday I think, so don’t bother emailing to co-ordinate – just show up if you’re keen.

(Move went well. House chaos steadily improving to livable. Yay.)
(Hope the 48 hr film fest was fun for all my friends who took part this year!)

ACTA: protecting your internet

ACTA isn’t well-known to those who aren’t web people, true internet natives. And it should be. From ACTA .net.nz, a description:

While in name it is about protecting consumers from counterfeit merchandise, the agreement is much wider in scope and addresses the regulation of Internet use by private citizens in an attempt to prevent unauthorised sharing of copyrighted works.

ACTA is being negotiated between a large group of countries in a series of secret meetings. This is a big deal. As internet use becomes more and more central to civic participation, it is becoming increasingly clear that we need to fight against attempts to attach commerce-driven barriers and traps. (It’s the secret meetings that really set me off – the lack of transparency is appalling.)

The next (secret) meeting between the countries is here in Wellington, and on Saturday a group of local web-people produced and issued the Wellington Declaration, which calls for:

  • acknowledging fair use in copyright
  • no protection for technology that limits users interaction with their own files
  • preservation of normal consumer protections and due process
  • maintaining right to privacy
  • avoiding punishment of ISPs, hosts and search engines
  • preserving access to the internet for all
  • in a copyright violation, ensuring that Courts (or equivalent) determine damages, proportionate to intent and harm
  • setting a high bar for criminal liability

This is all very important stuff. I urge you to sign the petition. It will be given to the NZ govt and they will circulate it to all countries in the negotiations. This is not an NZ issue, this is a global issue, and I hope you’ll all take a minute to add your name.

More info: the PublicACTA site