Video activism in the shadow of Wellywood : an exegesis submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Fine Arts at Massey University, Wellington, New Zealand

Thumbnail Image
Open Access Location
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
Massey University
The Author
This creative practice-based research was conducted in Wellington, Aotearoa New Zealand, the home of ground-breaking movie companies Wingnut Films, Weta Workshop, Weta Digital, and Park Road Post. Following the success of director Peter Jackson’s The Lord of The Rings and The Hobbit trilogies, with pioneering special effects led By Richard Taylor, Wellington city has colloquially become known as Wellywood, in honour of our film industry’s connections to Hollywood. Parts of Aotearoa have since been renamed by government tourism agencies and businesses to reflect their use as locations in the films set in the fictional world of Middle Earth. Throughout the course of this research, the “Wellywood” movie industry has faced a range of issues including workers’ rights and workplace harassment and has attracted criticism for its influence on government policy. In the Shadow of Wellywood is an experimentally animated video work satirizing the dominant studio system and its ability to shape our national identity and consumerist desires. This tale of celebrity dreams of stardom turning into nightmares draws upon tropes of action, melodrama, musical, film noir, and road movie genres to locate the narrative within the artificial world of the production studio. In using movie-themed action figures as stand-ins for Hollywood actors, and animating them using rudimentary techniques, the work considers the celebrity cycle and the technological advances of the industry. The artificial setting satirically suggests that we no longer have a national cinema, but one of transplanted culture. In combining analogue and digital video technologies the creative process reflected upon obsolescence, and the place of handmade animation techniques within an increasingly digital environment. In continuing to work with obsolete video technology rather than upgrading to the latest format the research has been conducted with the intention of developing an environmentally sustainable method of studio-based production. This research has identified a gap in the field of video art practice through continuing to use equipment that others no longer want and rejecting the latest movie industry technologies as a mode of critical engagement. This research makes an original contribution to the creative field of video activism through using equipment until it literally wears out and accepting the resulting inconsistencies in production. The creative processes used in the development of the final work explored a methodology of experimentation, collaboration, and iterative testing designed to critique mainstream movie production and distribution systems, and to explore alternatives. Through adapting the situationist principles of détournement, psycho-geography and the dérive, this research demonstrates the continued relevance of Guy Debord’s key text Society of the Spectacle (1967) for re-contextualizing the movie industry as an instance of the spectacle, an artificial capitalist system designed to manipulate the consumer, and for identifying ways to resist and critique it. A series of expanded cinema collaborations with musicians during the developmental stages of the research allowed for testing the concept of a studio backlot and exploring the notion of special effects. The animation studio built for this research drew upon traditions of repurposing established by pre-digital experimental film and expanded cinema artists. The portable micro cinema designed for screening In the Shadow of Wellywood locates the work outside of mainstream networks and within an alternative system of distribution underscoring the project’s positioning as a form of video activism.
Heynes, Mike. In the shadow of Wellywood, Motion picture industry, Video art, Video recordings, Social aspects, New Zealand