Cultural Diplomacy News (CDN)
Gareth Reeves (Prize Winning Actor, New Zealand)

17.02.2011 - Interview conducted by Mark Warman & Moushumi Bhadra

Q1:As an actor, how do you think we can use artistic expression to strengthen intercultural relations? Has this been done in New Zealand? Have you got any examples?

The first thing that springs to mind is a project that Iím doing when I go back to New Zealand later in the year. Weíre taking a play by William Shakespeare called Othello, which is about a Moor living in a white manís world.However, weíre subverting it and setting the story as a film prior to the influx of Europeans in New Zealand and itís going to be about a white European. †Iím going to be playing Othello, so Iíll be playing the role traditionally played by a black man.The project is being done to protect and use the indigenous language of New Zealand and itís being funded by a non-governmental organisation and a public trust. Theindigenous languageof the country is used in the film and also on the set as well.Also thereís a village in New Zealandthat is using the money to create a tourism opportunity and to create traditional village buildings which will be used practically but weíre going to get in there first and use it as the set for the film too. So the project is bringing together a whole bunch of people and itís primarily about treasuring the language and giving the language another chance by getting more people to speak it and presenting it to the world.

Q2:How do you feelthat theatre is used for cultural exchange in contrast to film? What opportunities do you have in theatre?

Thinking about Shakespeare again, these are stories that the whole world owns and that every culture interprets according to its own parameters and what it thinks is important. Theatre is such an ensemble art form and because the stories are always to do with conflict, you have to explore those conflicts as performers. So as a group of performers you really have to ask some pretty hard questions and face up to some difficult things. Of course, whether that translates to the audience depends on how good the production is. Playwrightswrite about big things and big ideas and we go to the theatre to see people go through things that we hope we wonít ever have to go through or maybe that we have gone through or our families have gone through and to remember and respect and hearfrom another side. I certainly have learnt a lot about empathy and compassion from working in the theatre. I had never met an openly gay person before I worked in the theatre and I grew up in a town that was fairly homophobic, probably because it was a small country town, and so the theatre really opened my eyes to gay people.

Q3: In terms of the role a film industry plays in creating an image of a country, you mentioned earlier The Lord of the Rings and how thatís affected New Zealand. What role do you feel a film industry plays in general for a country?

I always come back to a quote by George Bernard Shaw. He came to New Zealand in the 1930s and recommended the creation of a local film industry otherwise, he said, ďyou will lose your souls without even getting American ones.Ē I think that because American films have such a big reach around the world, some people see it as imperialism but people love film and they also have a hunger to see their own stories and if Hollywood encourages that then thatís great. I think that the most successful films from each country that are seen around the world are usually about family because itís something that we all have in common.Even though they maybe culturally specific, they are always universal. I think film has a powerful role to play because it reaches the most people and if youíve got something to say you can do a lot worse than making a film.

Q4: In the economic climate that weíre emerging from weíve often seen that the arts is the thing that gets cut from government funding the most. What affect do you think this has had on the potential for the arts to be used for cultural exchange and their influence at an international level?

Well, the arts has always been pretty shafted in New Zealand. Itís never had a massive amount of support from the government and so I think the situation is playing out a little differently in New Zealand in comparison to other countries. The film industry has become such a major industry now,I think itís right up there with meat, dairy exports and wine,because Peter Jackson has brought Hollywoodand all its money to the back doorstep.He does really well in using the labour workforce in New Zealand and improving them. Heísimproved the skills of a lot of the crew who work in New Zealand and he also provides his facilities for local work and projects, so heís quite rightly a national hero. SoI think film is very healthy in New Zealand, as opposed to a country like Britain where the film council has been completely disbanded by Cameronís government. Iimagine that thiswill have a potentially devastating effect on the film industry in the UK. A state funded film commission always has parametersthat you have to work within and they always have an idea of what film they think you should be making. In NewZealand, when one film becomes successful,for example, whenWhale Riderbecame really successful, suddenly every other film has to be about cultural identityand all that kind of thing. State-funded film commissions are vital to create the work but some of the best work is done by the people who donít have the money and who work outside of the parameters of the government. However, itís an expensive thing to make film and government support is important. Theatre is always going to be around and I think in this world people are going to hunger more and more for live contact and to see real human beings talking to them, rather than 3D blue aliens. There isa time for that now andIím all for it, but hopefully it will have a good roll on effect on fortheatre.

Q5: I donít know if you can always reconcile the two. I think that theatre is seen as something for educated people, especially in Britain, and maybe as society has become a bit more politicised and economic problems pull harder on people's purse strings, maybe people become a bit more interested in theatre.

Yeah, itís always been an expensive thing to go to the theatre and thatís the problem.† I canít afford to go and see playsusually but there seems to be a move towards more community orientated thinking. Iíve been thinking about this with regard to food and the new ideas put forward by chefs such as Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsay. I think that thereís definitely a burgeoning awareness aboutfood, for example if youíre eating local food then youíre supporting local producers as well. I think that theatre could potentially also be tying into that with more community orientated projects, particularly documentaries. The rise of documentaries is amazing and they are giving voice to communities which otherwise you might not ever hear from.

The Berlinale is interesting too because the films that are attracting attention are the political films. There is an Iranian film director who was supposed to be on the jury and who now canít be thereand the Berlinale have just left his seat empty and put the letter that he published on the seat. In many ways this Berlinale has become a lotmore about politics than the films. I donít know whether thatís because the films arenít very good this year or not, but it seems to be that in this film festival, art and politics have become intertwined like I have never seen before.

Thank you for your time Mr Reeves.