Community Scoop

Re-mastered Kiwi classic to make its Auckland premiere

Press Release – Rialto Distribution

23 years after it first screened, a re-mastered version of the acclaimed New Zealand film Illustrious Energy will make its Auckland premiere at the newly opened Monterey Cinema.

illustrious energy

Re-mastered Kiwi classic to make its Auckland premiere at new Howick Monterey cinema

A fascinating study of immigrant experience in which director Narbey’s attention to detail is superb and the cinematography of the wilds of New Zealand stunning.” – TV Guide

23 years after it first screened, a re-mastered version of the acclaimed New Zealand film Illustrious Energy will make its Auckland premiere at the newly opened Monterey Cinema.

Illustrious Energy, directed by Leon Narbey (The Orator, Dean Spanley, Whale Rider) and written by Martin Edmonds (Earth Angel, 33 Postcards), will premiere on Thursday, 8 December at 7.45pm at Monterey Cinema, 4/2 Fencible Drive, Howick. This premiere will be followed by further sessions of the film.

The movie, which featured in both the Wellington and Dunedin NZ Film Festival programmes earlier this year, highlights a significant period in New Zealand history, but the film itself has its own interesting back-story.

Following its release in 1988, the portrayal of Chinese gold-miners in late 1800s Central Otago garnered critical acclaim and a slew of awards, including eight NZ Film and Television awards and two international prizes. However, like the gold in the Southern valleys, it vanished.

When Mirage Entertainment collapsed in June 1988, Illustrious Energy was sold to a company in Los Angeles. The master negative of the film passed through many companies and was retitled Dreams of Home, before eventually being misplaced altogether.

After much searching, Narbey finally unearthed his feature-length directorial debut effort in a restoration laboratory in the United Kingdom.

“About 10 years ago, someone contacted me asking about the film, and I contacted the New Zealand Film Archive, assuming the negative would be there, but it wasn’t.

“Because that LA company was sold, the film went to another company and so on and every time it moved on, the person you’d contact didn’t want to know about it. They changed the title.” Narbey explains.

When Narbey was working on Dean Spanley in 2007, he travelled to Slough and found the film negative.

“We eventually got the sound mixes sent back as well as the ‘interpose’, a marriage of two negatives that has all the density values. They were shipped back and Weta Digital scanned them. The Film Commission funded all this; in the end it might have cost about $70,000 to restore it.”

A New Zealand Arts Foundation 2010 laureate, Narbey admits to a sense of relief that Illustrious Energy will screen again,

“The hope is that it will find a new audience who will enjoy it.”

Narbey’s film was inspired by just a few paragraphs in a book about Chinese goldminers. Edmond introduced Narbey to Peter Butler’s Opium and Gold, a history of Chinese miners in New Zealand that included a depiction of a Chinese poet called Illustrious Energy (his name was in fact Illustrious Envoy, but was mistakenly changed by way of a typesetting error), who ended up languishing in Seacliff asylum. The extract related to the writings of Rev Alexander Don, a Presbyterian minister who was knowledgeable about the Chinese miners.

In Illustrious Energy, key character Chan (Chaun Bao) and older friend Kim (Harry Ip) are prospecting for gold in 1895, having been in Otago for 12 and 27 years respectively. Stuck there until they can pay off their debts and return to China, they work their claim while enduring racism, threats, isolation and extreme weather. Despite his struggles, Chan discovers romance when a circus visits the area.

Narbey says the film, filmed on a range of sites, including Conroy’s on the outskirts of Alexandra and in Cromwell’s old town, is testament to an overlooked group in New Zealand’s history.

“I thought it was fascinating. There were so many Chinese in that area. Once the easy gold went, a lot of the goldminers left and there were these half-abandoned mines that still had gold. That’s when it was suggested that Chinese be brought out.

“It is a simple tale, a universal tale of love, bonding, survival and being separated from your home town. Obviously, there is plenty of metaphor there, of humanity struggling on the rock. “

Illustrious Energy will screen at Monterey Cinema, 4/2 Fencible Drive, Howick on Thursday, 8 December at 745pm. This screening will be followed by a Q&A session with director Leon Narbey and associates from the NZ film industry. For information about further sessions of Illustrious Energy at Monterey Cinema please contact the cinema on 09) 532 7034.


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