Behind the Scenes: Interview with Chris Hormann, President of the Wellington Film Society

“We don’t want to stop showing a film just because we think not everyone is going to like that.”

 => Chris is a real cinephile, a genuine lover of cinema as he describes all the members of the Film Society. President of a Film Society made up of not less than 500 members, he tells us more about their love for a cinema out of the mainstream.

When Sally Met Welly: Why did you choose to join the Wellington Film Society?

Chris Hormann, President of the Wellington Film Society: I’ve always worked in my professional capacity Bank and Insurance Company. Cinema is, I guess, my creative outlet, so, I joined mainly because the Film Society shows films, which are outside of the mainstream. They focus on particular directors from around the world. That was something I was interested in, so I thought: I’d like to be involved. Two years after: I joined the committee. I’m a member for 8-9 years now.

I didn’t study Film. It’s been a way for me to articulate my love with cinema & being expose to it. Cinema is a very personal experience. My own confidence in talking about cinema has increased by being in the Film Society because you get exposed to people’s different ideas, to people who speak very intelligently about cinema. I’ve picked it up by osmosis, just by being around. That’s what I love about it.

W.S.M.W.: How have you been introduced personally to a different kind of cinema?

C.H.: My first introduction to cinema outside of the mainstream was through learning languages at school. I recall my German teacher taking our class to see a film called Akropolis Now, which was my first introduction to seeing a film with subtitles. Even though it wasn’t a particularly good film, it opened a new world to me – From that moment I began to seek out and try to experience cinema with a wider worldview than just Hollywood.

W.S.M.W.: I’m curious, who are the members of the Wellington Film Society?

C.H.: It’s a big mix of ages; it goes from students to retired people. I believe it’s getting younger and that is reflective in our committee as well. Younger people join the committee, bringing energy and encouraging their friends and colleagues to come along.

From a personality point of view, they are the sorts of people, who are going to see 30 or 40 films when the International Film Festival comes out! [Chris himself is going to see 55 films this year! ed.] Also, you’ll never have a Film Society’s screening with people who are having their phone out texting or talking. They like the cinema experience.

Concerning the committee, everyone is a volunteer; we rely on people giving up their time. We are between 22-25 in the committee, mostly because of our investment in the NZIFF [The New Zealand International Film Festival]

W.S.M.W:Talking about the NZIFF, I know that the Wellington Film Festival grew out of the NZIFF. But how is now the Wellington Film Society involved in it?

C.H.: We’re in charge of the programme distribution. We deliver it to cafés, libraries, bookstores etc. Then, during the festival, we provide staff with the information desks (there are two, one at the Embassy, one at the Paramount). We’re involved on a city base area. We’re ushering during the day at the Paramount, but also in smaller cinemas like at Ngā Taonga or in the City Gallery.

W.S.M.W:Deeply involved in Wellington’s Film Festival life, are your connected to other players of cinema distribution?

C.H.: We’ve got a strong relationship with the German Film Festival organized by the Goethe Institute and the Brazilian Film Festival “Reel Brazil”: We normally include one of their films into our program.

We also just started a relationship with the French Film Festival this year, the biggest Film Festival outside the NZIFF! Sarah [Reese, the President of the French Film Festival, ed.] initiated this relationship. I run the Q&A for Apocalypse WWI with one of the producer, Josette D. Normandeau. The only thing is that we’ve got a strong relationship with the Paramount. They are our home.

Still, I think that encouraging people to go to any cinema is encouraging them to continue going to the cinema.

The Paramount CInema in Wellington

The Paramount CInema in Wellington

W.S.M.W: Actually, have you noticed a drop in demand lately? Do people still go to cinema?

C.H.: There is definitely competition. The quality of TV is becoming higher. Watching online cinema is becoming more accessible, whether legally or illegally. But I still believe there are cinema lovers who love the experience.

As far as our membership goes, we’ve been quite steady. The last couple of years, we drifted slowly down and this year, we’ve gone back up again. The main point it’s engaging people with the programme. If they feel that they can have a link to it, if it’s something was will have a meaning to them, then they will come! The Indian films for Satyajit Ray are a good example. I think, we sold them very well. He has a very different humanistic worldview, and people felt very connected to that.

Certainly, communication helps. I’m writing a monthly newsletter to encourage people to come along. Using social medias to get that connection is also essential, younger people are using them a lot more. However, because, Wellington is a small city, people do use word of mouth. The old-fashioned communication still works, and having passionate people on the committee is important. They know how getting people excited!

W.S.M.W: Could you tell us a bit more about your programme and how it’s been established?

C.H.: The Wellington Film Society has representation on the NZ Federations of Film Societies: (4 representatives). So we come and say, “these are the films that we are looking at for the coming year”, and we discuss with other members. We have just one programmer, Michael McDonnell who divides his time between programming for the Federation and programming for the NZ International Film Festival.

At the end, we try to come up with a program that is balanced between art-house films and more specific ones. The programme needs to correspond to the interests of smallest films societies too. Some of them are more mainstream – in terms of English or French comedies not Hollywood productions – because they don’t have art-house cinemas in their smaller towns. So, we try to show not obscure, but films that have never been shown in New Zealand, or that come for the NZIFF but never have another release [eg. Home from Home by Edgar Reitz, which is part of the 2015 programme]

W.S.M.W: Do you know why the films you are programming are not distributed in others NZ cinemas?

 C.H.: Cinemas have a commercial business plan. The artistic quality of a film is a smaller priority to them. We do show films that are less accessible, for example, I recall the screening of a Claire Denis film, I think it was Trouble Every Day. That was the film we had the most people walking out! Very bloody… But we thought: “Great, we can get a reaction from people!” We don’t want to stop showing a film just because we think not everyone is going to like that.

W.S.M.W: How do you create the link between cinema & real life? Do you  interact with the audience?

C.H.: People introduced films but membership doesn’t interact a lot outside the screenings. We’ve tried that, and it end up being the committee that comes along to it! But sometimes, we’ve got special guests.

We had for example the visit of Polish director Lech Majewski, who was a guest of the Federation. We ran a series of his films to coincide with his visit to us. We had some New Zealander filmmakers as well. However, because we are a non-profit organization, we don’t have the funds to be able to pay for plane tickets …

We try to adapt. This year, as it’s a very important year in New Zealand history [it’s the centenary of the ANZAC military campaign on the Gallipoli] we had a speaker from the Ministry of Defence that gave a context to All Quiet on the Western Front.

The Director of Goethe Institute and the Director of the Film Festival came and talked to us as well. We also try to engage through social medias. We’ve got a good following on Tweeter and Facebook. We give them further reading and direct to other films.

W.S.M.W:To conclude this interview, since you are a Film Specialist, which Kiwi films would you recommend, to a European Audience?

C.H.: Certainly. I would recommend:

  • In my Father’s den by Brad Mc Gann
  • An Angel at My Table by Jane Campion
  • Utu by Geoff Murphy

Wellington Film Society

TOP TIP: With a 3 films sample, you can come to any three movies in the year. The price comes off your total membership if you then decide to join. Come, try yourself and see if you like the Film Society or not!


And, don’t hesitate to take a look at my former post on the Wellington Film Society :

Interview by Sally Welly

One response

  1. Congratulations Chris and to your team too !

    You are doing a terrific job.

    Long live the (kiwi) cinema.

    We shall win the competition.

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