Queenstowner’s quest to promote kauri forest potential

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A Queenstown man hopes his new film project will draw attention to the potential for reviving the country’s dwindling kauri forests. 

Wakatipu musician Mathurin Molgat hosts the local launch of his Song of the Kauri documentary in Arrowtown tonight. 

A former professional skier, French-Canadian Molgat first came to Queenstown in 1985 to star in a cult skiing film called Leading Edge, with other locals. 

“I ended up doing film work, stunt work, for many years.” 

Molgat, 52, says he’d only really dabbled in film production previously but has taken a far bigger leap with Song of the Kauri. 

It’s taken six years to bring his vision to screen but he says he wanted to do it his way. 

Though he explores the history of the famous kauri forests in the upper North Island – 96 per cent of which have either been felled or destroyed by fire – Molgat says the film looks forward. 

“I always thought, we used to have those great kauri forests and what a shame. But when you go up north they’re saying, ‘we could have them again and that could be a huge boost to the economy if done in a sustainable way’.” 

Molgat says he was nervous how a foreign filmmaker might be received in Northland. 

“But my film crew, who were used to doing Heartland and Country Calendar, knew how not to be a film crew, how to just be part of the scene. 

“I guess it’s funny that someone who wasn’t born here is making a film about something so intrinsically NZ as kauri.” 

Molgat filmed experts talking about kauri’s economic potential including investor and Queens-town developer George Kerr. 

Fellow NZ musicians including Tiki Taane and Miranda Adams are also interviewed. 

Molgat, who regularly plays a set up at Queenstown’s Skyline restaurant, says his trusty kauri guitar inspired his film. 

His guitar maker Laurie Williams had rung to say a kauri from the same Northland forest that grew his instrument’s timber more than 80 years ago was about to be felled. 

“The idea was, I wonder if this forest grows perfect guitar timber,” Molgat says. 

Molgat says esteemed Lord of the Rings editor Annie Collins crunched 6000 minutes of footage into just 95 minutes, over three months. 

“She said, ‘If you get a budget, I’ll edit your film, if you don’t get a budget, I’ll edit your film’ – so she did.”
Molgat says he spent several hundred thousand dollars to produce it 

It premiered in Auckland in July at the start of the touring NZ International Film Festival and made its American debut last month in Arkansas at the Western world’s oldest documentary festival. It’s now on general release through 18 NZ cinemas. 

Tonight it launches at Dorothy Browns Arrowtown Cinema with future screenings subject to demand. 

“We’ve got James Bond and the bloody Hobbit movies running at the same time which is not ideally what you want when you put a documentary out.” 

Molgat doesn’t expect to make a return from showing Song of the Kauri in NZ, despite its good reception so far.
“The NZ release is great fun but I spend my day on the telephone trying to convince people to screen it, and then 
I have to make posters and print flyers and at the end, you look at the bottom line and think, ‘that was an expensive release’.” 

Molgat says he’ll probably only make money if the film’s picked up by investors and gets international distribution. 

National Geographic will screen it at the Environmental Film Festival in Washington in March and at its All Roads Film Festival. 

“From the creative side, I want the film’s vision to get out, so it can make a difference. 

“But if I can make it at least commercially viable, I can then make the next film.” 

Ironically, considering his lead roles in so many skiing films, Molgat – a bit like the director Alfred Hitchcock – is barely sighted in Song of the Kauri. 

“I appear in the background in one scene, but that’s it.”