One reason I related so strongly to Free Theatre is that their history has run parallel to my own film career. There’s no cruisy, laid-back lifestyle for anyone who puts creative priorities ahead of commercial ones. Free Theatre has survived censure, court cases, money problems and an earthquake that wrecked their venue. Such pressures have only made them more imaginative and more determined to realise their vision. They show that working outside the mainstream can be hugely satisfying. The film is not just about Christchurch but relates Free Theatre’s activities to the wider history of experiment in the arts in New Zealand.
In 2009, New Zealand filmmaker Shirley Horrocks was introduced to the work of Free Theatre. She expressed interest in making the company the subject of a documentary, discovering from word-of-mouth and the extensive archives she was introduced to that here was a special story. She travelled to Wellington to see the company's touring work Distraction Camp - seeing the performance on the evening of the first major Christchurch earthquake in September 2010.
From here commenced an extraordinary six year odyssey to produce a film on the company. Although she eventually received a CreativeNZ grant to create a rough cut of the film that subsequently led to a finishing grant from the NZ Film Commission, much of the early work was self-funded. Horrocks has a reputation for shining light on New Zealand artists working on the margins that she believes deserve to be more widely recognised. Her films reflect an impressive array of NZ subjects, including Marti Friedlander, Allen Curnow and Albert Wendt. Her quest to produce a film on Free Theatre was fuelled by a sense that the company epitomised a sense of the alienated NZ artist continuously trying to reach out to the local community, providing vital insight but not always appreciated for doing so. She takes a look at the extensive and colourful history of a company that is unique in the New Zealand arts scene, incorporating material from the Free Theatre archives and talks with current and past members of the company as well as national and international collaborators. Horrocks also presents beautiful, never seen before footage of post-quake productions that she and her cameraman Craig Wright filmed including The Earthquake in Chile, Canterbury Tales and Hereafter.
Shirley Horrocks interviewed by James Dann
RDU, 15 August 2017
"When Christchurch was the centre of new theatre"
National Business Review (NBR)
John Daly, 14 July 2014
"From sublime to satirical: filmaker picks in the NZIFF, Part IV"
25 July 2017, The Spinoff