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Filmmaker John O’Shea died in Wellington in July 2001.
John’s career in film began in the 1940s, when he became assistant
to the Censor. He was later involved in the establishment of the Wellington
Film Society, the NZ Film Commission and Film Archive.
The following essays, written in his honour, were originally
published in Illusions 33, Autumn 2002.
Cinematically speaking, New Zealand was a barren wilderness between the
years 1940 and 1970. Only three feature films were produced in that time
(Broken Barrier, 1952; Runaway, 1964; Don’t
Let It Get You, 1966); all of them by John O’Shea for Pacific
Films. Almost single-handedly, Pacific Films kept alive the notion of
independent filmmaking in New Zealand until the establishment of the Film
Commission in 1978.
The Pacific Film Unit was established in 1948 by ex-National Film Unit
staff Alun Falconer (writer-director) and Roger Mirams (cameraman). Disgruntled
by the peacetime political agenda of the Weekly Review, their
ambition was to create an independent company. Short sponsored documentary
films such The Story of a Store, 1949, for Hays Department Store
were the company’s staple product. In 1950 John O’Shea joined;
Alun Falconer left to pursue a career in China; and the company changed
its name to Pacific Film Productions Ltd. Roger Mirams left Pacific Films
in 1957 to set up a subsidiary company in Australia and from that time
John O’Shea became synonymous with Pacific Films.
Pacific Films survived by making road safety films presented as 1 and
2-reel mini-movie-dramas; sponsored documentaries; and by covering sports
events, between 1956 and 1962 for example, the company covered every All
Black test match played in New Zealand. The introduction of television
in 1960 raised the hopes of independent companies. Although it did provide
Pacific Films some opportunities, most notably the Survey and
Tangata Whenua series, in the main television was not a rich
source of programming for the independents. The production of television
commercials did become an increasingly important source of income however.
The late 1960s and 1970s were Pacific Films’ boom time. The permanent
staff grew to 28, many of whom – Gaylene Preston, Michael Seresin,
Barry Barclay – were to become important filmmakers both locally
and internationally. In the absence of any film schools in New Zealand
John O’Shea and Pacific Films filled an important gap. By the mid
1970s new government directives for “competitive and complementary
programming” crippled independent production and Pacific’s
staff dwindled to only six.
With the upturn in the New Zealand film industry in the 1980s Pacific
Films returned to feature film production, releasing Sons for the
Return Home (1979), Pictures (1981), Among the Cinders
(1984), Leave all Fair (1985), Ngati (1987) and Te
John O’Shea’s contribution to the New Zealand film industry
is indisputable, for more than 50 years he was totally committed to New
Zealand filmmaking and film culture. In 1990 John received an OBE for
his services to film and in 1992 he received the first Lifetime Achievement
Award presented by the Film Commission.
||New Zealand’s dramatic
coastline stars in this Pacific Films title
||Barry Crump features in
this trailer for the 1964 film, Runaway
||Calling all kids! Dad’s
in the kitchen (and in the dog-box!) in the Pacific Films comedy,
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