by Georgia Gilson
Flying over the west coast of New Zealand’s South Island can simply knock the breath right out of you. The rugged mountains on the coastline hold a mystical beauty. Not to mention the atmosphere created by the steaming earth at Rotorua – it all seems untouched and accessible all at the same time.
Likewise the wild southern tip of Tasmania, or the expanse of red desert that is Western and Central Australia. The gleaming white beaches meeting dense bushland in southern NSW, marshy tropics of Queensland… There are too many diverse and beautiful places to name.
While the landscapes have been around for millions of years, home to the indigenous peoples of our lands, now millions of travelers head down under each year to sample the wild natural beauty of Australia and New Zealand. Marketing and advertising campaigns are all well and good, the respective tourism industries have long been beneficiaries of films that inspire audiences to make the long trip down to the bottom corner of the world.
There are the obvious draw cards, such as Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies, which have prompted millions to visit wild locations from ‘Middle Earth’ in New Zealand. In a 2016 survey by Associated Press, 16 percent of tourists cited the films as influential in their initial interest in New Zealand, meaning the $6 billion-odd box office takings made their mark on international audiences. So, too, have smaller films such as Mahana (The Patriarch), which screened at the Berlinale International Film Festival in 2016. Mahana is the coming-of-age drama about a boy in a Māori sheep-shearing family in rural New Zealand. Rocky outcrops dotted throughout rolling green hills are an arresting setting for a tale of love, betrayal, domestic violence and family loyalty.
Jane Campion’s 1993 film The Piano captured the imagination of global film-goers, with intense Southern New Zealand backdrop. Campion’s talent for integrating striking scenery into thought-provoking, thrilling drama had a reprise in her recent television series Top of the Lake, which was filmed in Queenstown and Glenorchy in New Zealand. When the series aired in 2013, Campion was quoted in an article saying, “The landscape is always innocent… I think that’s such a beautiful remembrance in a story. No matter how crazy they get, the landscape is untouched. I think humans are mad and moody.”
The danger and terror of the Australian landscape seep into so much of the national cinema. It’s not only reflected in horror films – Wolf Creek did a pretty good job of scaring the pants off audiences, and the first three Mad Max films wouldn’t have been the dystopian thrillers they were without the never-ending desert backdrop. It’s also the melancholic dramas and stories that seem so intertwined with the landscape. The 2006 film Jindabyne, directed by Ray Lawrence, immediately comes to mind as a film that used the remote landscape (Snowy Mountains in NSW) as a frame for a haunting story about a community reeling from the murder of a young indigenous woman.
On a completely different scale, the 2013 film Australia, directed by Baz Luhrmann, was a venerable smorgasbord of all things ‘Australian’, pitched squarely at the USA. Actors familiar to American audiences, such as Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman, ensured commercial success abroad. But predictably, the star of the show was the sweeping shots of the hot, dry landscape bursting with colour. The relationship between the camera and landscapes down under has to be the best love story of all.
Georgia Gilson is an Australian freelance writer and communications consultant living in Berlin. She works predominantly with German start-ups as they launch into English-speaking markets, as well as tweeting and blogging about culture, news and politics.
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