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The Art of Recovery

Peter Young’s NZIFF-premiered The Art of Recovery opened in Auckland yesterday and will soon head to Wellington.

When he spoke to SCREENZ after Labour Weekend, Young noted it had been three years almost to the day since he’d started filming for the documentary at FESTA, Christchurch’s Festival of Transitional Architecture. Young spent a year filming before putting material together and applying for support.

“I do my research by shooting,” Young explained. “The story was shaped during editing.”

The filming didn’t stop during the edit, although “to the relief of my collaborators” Young put the camera down in the middle of this year, with somewhere north of 120 hours of footage in captured.

In the thick of post on The Last Ocean in February 2011, Young spent a fair amount of time away from Christchurch after the quakes. After presenting The Last Ocean at international festivals.

On his return he found the levels of artistic activity in the city inspirational, much of that activity coming from individuals “on the fringes of the cultural norm”. Young set out to capture that creativity but expanded the film to take in the discussion about what cities are and what they can be.

Young didn’t have many connections with those who became the primary subjects. He’d shot interviews with people whose stories contributed to Gaylene Preston’s Hope and Wire. Preston came on to The Art of Recovery as executive producer, bringing her knowledge of funding and funders to the party.

“This is the first film I’ve had NZFC support for,” Young noted.

Peter Young

Peter Young

Young did know cafe owner Sam Crofskey, whose C1 cafe is one of the post-quake businesses The Art of Recovery documents. Crofskey planned to import organic coffee beans from Samoa. Young accompanied him to shoot an item for Country Calendar.

The long-running TVNZ show has helped pay the bills during the making of The Art of Reovery. Young works as a cameraman for the show, enjoying the change of not being responsible for everything on a production.

Concerned about the potential impact of “Christchurch fatigue” on attracting audiences to a post-earthquake Christchurch doco, Young is keen to point out that this isn’t more of the same. “There’s been a lot of earthquake stories made,” he acknowledges, but The Art of Recovery doesn’t focus on the event itself.

Certainly there are images of the city during and after the quake, of demolition and a wasteland that was once the CBD, but the film is about regeneration, the challenges and opportunities. There’s much talk of the post-quake contribution being made by people described in various ways as “outsiders” – not so much people from beyond a city with a reputation for parochialism but people who don’t fit with “the norm”, who don’t value permanence and profit as much as those charged by government with rebuilding the city. What Christchurch might become is a major talking point, whether it should replicate its former self or become something different.

What “temporary” and “permanent” mean is also something that’s debated during the film. The architect behind the cardboard cathedral, Shigeru Ban, talks of structures of concrete made temporary by the quake and the more permanent love people can have for ephemeral constructions.

Artist Peter Mejendie’s piece to mark the lives lost during the quake, 185 Empty Chairs, was intended to be exhibited for two weeks. Four years later it’s still there. “I don’t know how to stop it,” Mejendie admits, although some of the other projects created during the post-quake era have relocated or concluded.


One of the challenges of a story that’s continuing is to find the point at which to stop recording and begin to share it. Since its premiere in the Christchurch leg of this year’s NZIFF, Young has gone back to it and made some changes, although they’re mostly technical tweaks rather than adding material.

Now based north of Auckland, Young lived in Christchurch for almost 25 years. “I was proud to have the opportunity to tell that story before I left.”

The Art of Recovery is now playing Auckland’s Bridgeway, is rated five star on Flicks and opens in Wellington 19 November. It was made with funding from the Joint Documentary Fund of NZ On Air and the New Zealand Film Commission. During its Auckland run it will have an outdoor screening at Wynyard Quarter’s Silo Park.

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