Invercargill, New Zealand was chosen as the place to have the world
premiere of The World’s Fastest Indian. A third of the
film was shot in this small town and it was here, in 1971, that I made
a documentary about Burt Munro, the real-life character whose exploits
were the inspiration for the film. Mum is pushing 86 and not one to
miss a good night on the town. She decided to make the trip from Ballarat,
Australia over to New Zealand for the evening’s festivities.
The last time she wore her black feather boa was in 1977, to the New
Zealand premiere of Sleeping Dogs, my first feature film.
convinced it’s a good luck charm and if it worked its magic
once why not bring it out of the closet and twirl it around her neck
one more time and see if it could still do the trick? The boa has
been in the family forever. It belonged to my father’s grandmother
and so has been flung around a few necks in its time. Mum looked
to the nines along with the rest of my family.
Premieres don’t happen often in this neck of the woods. Invercargill,
the southern most city in New Zealand, is not all that far from Antarctica.
The previous day we had flown into town to be met by Tim Shadbolt,
mayor, a local celebrity and a cast member of the film. Tim recently
captured New Zealand’s attention when
he starred as a competitor in a nationally televised ballroom dancing
contest. It is rumored that somehow Tim managed to stay in the competition
far longer than his dancing talents warranted due to his extraordinary
personality and the help of the local community who spent thousands
of dollars texting their support to the TV network.
Once we collected our luggage we were quickly escorted out of town
to the spectacular Oreti Beach and welcomed by the elders of the local
Maori tribe. We were given special permission to dig in the sand for
the exquisitely delicious and rare Toaroa shellfish. Only members of
the Maori community have the right, under New Zealand law, to harvest
this delicacy. To be allowed to dig for the Toaroa was an honor the
local Maori community bestowed on us. The fruits of our shellfish gathering
expedition were to be served at the premiere party the next night.
At 6pm the following evening the “celebs” gathered at
a local hotel. The plan was to ferry us to the VIP red carpet entrance
half a block away. The city fathers managed to find a considerable
length of scarlet carpet reputed to have been put together from off
cuts left over from past Lord of the Rings premieres.
There is a very
limited supply of limousines in Invercargill…three
to be exact. Not your Lincoln Town Car variety but a stretched version
of a homegrown favorite, the Holden. The limos looped around the block
and managed to drop us all off to the waiting throngs of local well-wishers.
As I followed New Zealand’s Prime Minister Helen Clark into
the theatre and saw how the whole town had turned out to welcome us,
I realized how people everywhere love the movies.
The local Civic Theatre
had recently been refurbished at a cost of NZ$16 million. For the premiere
screening an antique movie projector
had been found in a nearby town and installed for the night’s
showing. The projector sat enclosed in a soundproof box right in the
middle of the theatre. A number of seats were removed to make room
Fifty of Burt Munro’s descendents, including his four
children now in their 70s and 80s, were in the audience. None of them
seen the film so I was a little nervous about how they would react.
I need not have worried. Anthony Hopkins was given a big “thumbs
up” for his subtle and convincing portrayal of their father.
After the film had screened we got stuck into the Toaroa fritters,
washed down with some of my friend Sam Neill’s excellent wine, “Two
Paddocks,” and a few bottles of our own label, “Sleeping
Dogs.” It was a great evening. One I will never forget; nothing
like the studio premieres of Hollywood but one with a unique quality
that only a small town halfway around the world could put on.