In between the world premieres of Dark Horse on which he was co-producer, and Cap Bocage on which he was director, producer, editor and most everything else, Jim Marbrook talked juggling, family and relationships.
The juggling comes from having two features have their premieres within a week of one another, making a trip to Boston with his previous feature doco Mental Notes, plus having a day job lecturing on Television and Screen Production at AUT. Marbrook is quick to acknowledge how helpful AUT has been in the juggling act, shuffling scheduling and granting unpaid leave when he’s needed to be away from Auckland with one or other of the projects.
Dark Horse producer Tom Hern credits Marbrook’s 2003 documentary about chess champion Genesis Potini (also titled Dark Horse) with introducing him to Potini and his life. Marbrook’s doco won Best Feature Documentary at the inaugural DOCNZ International documentary festival in 2005.
Hern and writer-director James Napier Robertson invited Marbrook and Potini on board their feature (which travelled as Genesis during most of its journey to the screen).
For his 2003 doco, Marbrook had done the research and the legwork and established relationships in and around Potini’s hometown of Gisborne that were still in place when the narrative feature got under way. Those relationships remained in place, despite Potini’s death in 2011. Indeed, Potini’s family came to stay with Marbrook in Auckland to attend Thursday night’s premiere.
How was it for Marbrook, going around on the same story again?
Different, for sure, but there were benefits. Some things could be done with the narrative version of the story that weren’t possible with the documentary. For his 2003 documentary Marbrook had invited some of the gang members who played at the chess club to talk about their gang experiences. They were unwilling to go on camera about that, so it wasn’t part of the story Marbrook told.
In the 2014 film James Rolleston’s character is a composite, built from some of those real-life characters.
While making the documentary, events took place when Marbrook was attending to his day job in Auckland – such as Potini and a mate going bush in Ruatoria, their plan being to learn how to play chess blindfolded until they ran out of food and drink.
The 2014 Dark Horse opened the NZIFF on Thursday and, it seems, nobody has a bad word to say about it. After a slow start – at least for domestic releases – 2014 seems to be shaping up to be a good year for NZ features.
On the new Dark Horse Marbrook was much more involved in pre-production and during the shoot – for which he was on-set – than at the present stage of the process. The release and its attendant promotion and marketing are in other capable hands, although Marbrook will return to the East Coast for the Gisborne premiere, to reconnect with old friends and acknowledge what he calls the production’s “spiritual home”.
The workload on Dark Horse has been split the right way for Marbrook, allowing him more time in recent months to get his own film, the New Caledonia-shot Cap Bocage, over the line and ready for its own premiere.
Over April Marbrook made a trip back to New Calaedonia’s main island, Grand Terre, to show a more-or-less fine cut to the participants and seek their comments. Some of the comments made led Marbrook to some tweaking before the film was completed.
Cap Bocage has been a long time coming, which isn’t uncommon for documentaries which are exploring an ongoing situation where the story is unfolding in another country. Marbrook started on the film in 2007, working with a French partner, at which point they were researching issues around a Brazilian-owned nickel processing plant in the south of New Caledonia’s largest island, Grand Terre.
The nickel is processed by being pressure cooked in sulphuric acid. What could possibly go wrong?
While Marbrook was there in 2008 he was alerted to a landslip further north, which was being blamed on a smaller, French-owned nickel mining company. The landslip was substantial, running several kilometres and dumping slippage into the sea.
While Cap Bocage has taken another six years to reach the screen since then, the effects of the slip and the practices that allowed it to happen might not play out for a few decades yet. One of the elements in the earth where the nickel is mined on Grand Terre is asbestos.
Marbrook decided that the slip and issues around it should be the focus of the documentary. The amount of research required to do justice to the story of the nickel processing plant was expensive and – after attempts to raise more money here and in France – it seemed it was going to be prohibitively expensive.
He noted that finding support to tell Pacific stories from here can be frustrating as the region often slips into the cracks when it comes to funding bodies. Many of the Pacific nations are not rich enough or developed enough (from a film production and infrastructure perspective) to be viable co-production partners. The local content requirements of much of the funding available here and in Australia, for film or TV, prevent the telling of stories such as this one being supported.
Funded or not, the story further north was ticking some other boxes of interest for Marbrook, and he was able to attract some funding from the Pacific Media Centre, later supplemented with a mmore substantial grant from Creative NZ.
As an academic, Marbrook has an interest in ethnography, and the story unfolding around the Ballande mine was a microcosm of broader issues: not least being the way French colonial culture has impacted on the clan culture of the indigenous islanders.
Those changes have been a driver of many disputes between the French and Kanaks, and disputes among the Kanaks themselves.
In Florent Eurisouké, president of the environmental group Mee Rhaari, Marbrook found a great character through whom to tell the story of Cap Bocage – a man who’s not perfect but wears his heart on his sleeve, who is an example of the tensions and debates within many Kanak clans about whether to continue to operate as they had always done or engage in different ways.
For Eurisouké, a part of the challenge was how far he was prepared to isolate himself from his clan in order to oppose Ballande.
Eurisouké was in New Zealand last year with his uncle, an elder and chief, Jean “Jojo” Neporo. Since it was their first trip, Marbrook did the honourable thing, threw a barbie and asked the pair what they’d like to do while they were here.
“We want to go on a protest,” was the reply, so Marbrook set about finding one for them and luckily discovering a Coal Action protest, which nicely mirrored a coupled of the themes which had brought them together in the first place: mining and environmental issues.
Cap Bocage trailer
After close to a dozen trips to New Caledonia in recent years wrapped around a tiki tour of NZ to shoot Mental Notes and time in Gisborne with The Dark Horse, Marbrook is kicking around some ideas for what’s next.
Some of what’s next will still be Cap Bocage. Given his recent commitments to The Dark Horse, Mental Notes and AUT, Marbrook hasn’t yet begun shared the completed Cap Bocage with its contributors and participants in New Caledonia. Nor has he begun the legwork to place the film with other festivals.
As for his next film Marbrook admits, “My family want to know why I can’t tell a nice project I can shoot in Browns Bay or some other leafy, local suburb.”
Are any of those ideas he’s mulling set in Browns Bay?
“Nah,” he admits with a laugh, but shares that’s he’s becoming increasingly interested in the space where narrative fiction and documentary intersect – the territory of Gaylene Preston’s Hope & Wire, Banksy’s Exit Through the Gift Shop and Peter Watkins’ 1964 Culloden.
It’s possible to be more flexible about where such a story might shoot, so the family might yet get a say. For now, Marbrook is off on another little tiki tour until mid-August, supporting the NZIFF screenings of Cap Bocage.
Cap Bocage has its world premiere in the NZIFF at 6.15pm Tuesday 22 (tomorrow) at Auckland’s Academy, and plays again 11.30am Wednesday 23.
It will also screen in Wellington (5 August at Soundings Theatre, Te Papa); Dunedin (8 and 9 August at Rialto Cinemas); and Christchurch legs of the festival (10 and 11 August at Hoyts Northlands).