Beyond the Farm: An Interview with Alex Greenhough, Filmmaker
Dr. Alexander Greenhough is the PWR Lecturer for the first-year student academic program, Immersion in the Arts: Living in Culture (ITALIC) and also teaches a film-themed PWR 2 course.
His research interests include film theory, videographic criticism, postwar French, Italian, and American cinema, and contemporary New Zealand cinema. His writing has appeared in publications such as In Media Res, Mediascape, Film Criticism, and Quarterly Review of Film and Video. In addition to his work as a scholar, Greenhough makes films and has received grants from the Arts Council of New Zealand and the New Zealand Film Commission.
This quarter, the PWR Newsletter finally had an opportunity to sit down with Alex to chat about his films.
Tell us about your filmmaking. Has film always been part of your work?
My interest in cinema began during high school. My friends and I made a number of short films with VHS cameras. We edited some of them by playing and recording tapes across two VCRs. By the time I began my university studies, I’d already written and directed a 16mm short, produced with a grant from the national arts council, Creative New Zealand. So as an undergrad, I was always thinking about, and making, movies, in addition to all kinds of art. But I never studied filmmaking, as such. At university it was almost entirely theory and analysis. I ended up doing a film studies/art history double major for my BA. After that, I made three features – I Think I’m Going, Murmurs, and Kissy Kissy – all in my hometown of Wellington.
Tell us about those films.
I Think I’m Going, which I co-wrote and directed, was an independent film, made on a very low budget, shot on digital video, with a small crew. We were inspired by another Wellington filmmaker, Campbell Walker, who was working in an improvisational and minimalistic mode, telling slice-of-life stories about the everyday problems of people in their twenties. At that time, digital filmmaking was uncommon, as most features were shot on celluloid. Murmurs and Kissy Kissy, which I co-wrote and co-directed with Elric Kane, were also digital, so we were somewhat at the forefront in utilizing that technology, which is now the norm.
Who was your audience?
Even in pre-production, I definitely knew I wanted to premiere I Think I’m Going at the New Zealand International Film Festival. It’s a wonderfully programmed, non-competitive venue which began in the early 1970s. They show films from festivals such as Cannes, Berlin, Toronto, and Venice, for example, in addition to a number of New Zealand films. I was a regular attendee well before making the features, and my own style as a director was influenced by the art cinema I encountered at festival screenings. It was exciting to have my work included. Bill Gosden, who was the director of the festival for many years, was supportive and encouraging, which made a big difference, as we were working on the margins of the film industry. The premieres were in Wellington, where the festival is based, so that was special.
Yes, home context matters, especially when depicting your lived experiences.
They are very much Wellington films, so they were at least visually rewarding for local audiences – like, “there’s the Botanical Gardens, and Cuba Mall, and the Aro St. Video Shop!” But even at the time, as someone dedicated to making “art films,” I also perceived pretty clearly various institutional obstacles and boundaries, and knew there was only so much that I could accomplish there. In between Murmurs and Kissy Kissy I did a MA in film studies in the United States, which I found rewarding. I consequently had an interest in continuing in academia, so I kept going and did a PhD. I think my background in filmmaking has enriched my work as both a scholar and a teacher. For me, theory and practice go together.
Do your PWR students arrive with the same ambitions? What do they write about?
With ITALIC, first-year students typically come in with an interest in the arts. Some of them are really into movies. With “The Rhetoric of Film Criticism,” the PWR 2 course I teach, students want to learn more about cinema as a medium, through writing about a film. Nearly everyone has at least a few films they're particularly passionate about; students often write about films which relate in some way to their identities and life experiences.
Where do you see your work going?
I’m also currently outlining a feature screenplay, for a film I plan to make in the Bay Area. It’s been a long time since I’ve directed a narrative film, so I’m looking forward to returning to that kind of filmmaking.