Book review: A coming of age: Thirty years of New Zealand film

So it was with pleasant anticipation that I flipped back the dust cover on what I expected to be a fairly detailed history of the last 30 years of New Zealand cinema and those 30 iconic films.

But A Coming of Age isn’t quite what I had in mind. Rather than pulling together stacks of interesting anecdotes, facts and background material on classics like The Quiet Earth, Once Were Warriors and Whale Rider, the book is instead pre-occupied with the film industry itself and what Kiwis think of it.

Numerous pages are devoted to the results of two national surveys of filmgoers. But who wants to wade through the comments of anonymous respondents? Female, 51, Kapiti Coast: “First experience was Utu—found it interesting, but a tad slow.” See what I mean?

Here and there, A Coming of Age loosens up and takes us inside the movies, but for the most part, it’s a dry, academic account of a fledgling industry learning how to portray the New Zealand identity and be proud of the results. The second part of the book is a catalogue featuring short reviews and production credits for dozens of films, with the original full-colour movie poster for each. An accompanying DVD features trailers for 24 movies covered in the book.

It makes for a handy shelf reference for New Zealand film geeks, but the best book on New Zealand film remains New Zealand Film 1912–1995 by Helen Martin and Sam Edwards—despite being so out of date.

It, too, is a catalogue of sorts, but each classic Kiwi flick gets a comprehensive critical overview in which the plot and themes of each film are explored. You come away with a better understanding of what makes our filmmakers tick.

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