Frances Hodgkins Anything but a Still Life
Award winning director visits Arrowtown for screening and Q&A
by Kelly Carmichael
In February Arrowtown Creative Art Society will present their inaugural Gardens and Galleries event, offering the chance to explore some of the Whakatipu Basin's best gardens and art spaces in support of Plunket. As part of the event, a special one-off screening of a new and highly-acclaimed documentary exploring the life and work of celebrated New Zealand artist Frances Hodgkins will take place, followed by a Q&A with the film's director.
Spending much of her career in Europe, Frances Hodgkins was a modernist painter whose work continues to inspire contemporary artists. The film celebrates Hodgkins' travels and determination as a pioneering woman in the arts. Born and raised in Paris, filmmaker Blandine Massiet du Biest moved to New Zealand 18 years ago. Frances Hodgkins Anything but a Still Life is her first cinematic documentary, for which she received a prestigious award.
Ahead of her visit we asked Blandine a few questions:
What drew you to the artist Frances Hodgkins and her story?
The encounter was purely accidental. I had met Mary Kisler, curator of the wonderful exhibition on Frances Hodgkins, in 2019 at Auckland Art Gallery. When she went to France for research I happened to be in Paris, so I assisted them. We discussed the idea of a film about Hodgkins because nothing had been done since the 1980s. On a more personal level, I liked the idea of a sort of mirror between Hodgkins' life and mine. While she left for France at 30, I made the reverse journey, leaving France to settle in New Zealand during my 30s, a century later. The more I discovered about Frances Hodgkins, the more I admired her determination, her courage, and also the fact that she never let anyone dictate what she should do or think.
Your documentary features insights from art experts, fashion designers, and artists. How important were these contemporary creatives to the story?
It was crucial for me to have a diversity of perspectives on Hodgkins' life: scholars, gallery owners, writers, and artists. I believe that artists offer an inside view of her artistic practice; they understand and feel Hodgkins' work in a much more visceral way. Each of them shed a different light on her creativity.
You recently won Best NZ Emerging Filmmaker at the Doc Edge festival, congratulations! How can an award help an emerging filmmaker and what future paths can it open?
It is important, especially in New Zealand, to have that kind of recognition, particularly for a first film. It means people in the industry appreciated your work, which is a sort of quality label. But the most moving thing is the reaction of the people who watch the film and come to talk to me after the screening. A woman said to me, 'This film inspired me, and I'm going to pick up my brushes again!' That really touched me.
Any words of advice for someone new just getting started in filmmaking?
While I was starting to work on the film with all the doubts that can arise, especially when you're alone in the process, I stumbled upon an article by a New Zealand filmmaker that said, 'Don't wait to have the perfect team, the perfect camera, etc., to start, otherwise, you'll never begin." Today, you can film with an iPhone; the essential thing is to have a story that makes sense and speaks to people in one way or another. So, my advice is: Go for it! Believe in yourself, in your project, and don't hesitate to ask for help. There might not be huge resources in New Zealand but there is incredible solidarity among creatives, which is truly fantastic.
What’s next for you?
I'm at the very beginning stages of two documentaries. The first revolves around a community radio station in New Zealand, it aims to paint a picture of New Zealanders as seen through the eyes of immigrants, while exploring the immigrant experience in New Zealand. The second focuses on a very close cousin who is seriously considering a lung transplant while navigating a complicated family life. She's the most radiant person I know, an epitome of resilience, showing how the ability to live positively, no matter the challenges, is essential.
Gardens and Galleries 9–11 February 2024
Frances Hodgkins Anything but a Still Life + director Q&A: 5pm, Friday 9 February. Tickets for all events: teatamira.nz/events/gardens-galleries