NZIFF: Last Paradise
Not all home movies are created equal. Clive Neeson’s got off to a head start. His parents were wild-life photographers. In the early 60s when some of us tasted adventure seeing Hatari! or reading Willard Price, the Neeson boys were growing up on safari in East Africa. When their parents moved to New Zealand they discovered something even better: a wilderness they could actually play in, without being devoured by anything more ravenous than sandflies.
Neeson’s Last Paradise looks back on a lifetime-so-far of filming adventure sports in the great outdoors. Mum’s still behind the camera in the earliest sequences: boys bouncing down paddocks on bone-jolting, jerry-built trolleys or ecstatically greased from head to toe on the Raglan mudflats circa 1964. At 15 Clive bought a broken windup camera for $7 and knocked up a board-cam by building a waterproof housing for it in the chicken shed. It was to last him several decades. “It took two hours digging potatoes to pay for one minute of film”, he recalls, “so, as I couldn’t afford to let the film keep running after a bad wipeout, there was a meccano-style coupling to the surfboard which switched the camera off the moment the camera was torn from the board. The camera often ended way up down the coast amongst the rocks so its orange colour was to enable finding it again.”
Neeson’s own earliest footage, vintage Kiwi surf cuts from later in the 60s, features that distinctive red board. From there it’s Noosa, then the classic surfie Bohemias of the 70s: Petacalco, Spain, Portugal and Bali. Boys Own Paradise never looked so lush. He’s continued to film adventure sports ever since. He hadn’t intended his fabulous footage as anything more than a record of good times, magical places and stunning feats, but the idea of accumulating it into a longer chronicle has proven irresistible.
The film he’s assembled from his footage is shaped by a connoisseur’s eye for board development and the adaptation of surfing technologies to different environments, most spectacularly the mountains. The inventiveness of Kiwi adventure sportsmen – A. J. Hackett amongst others – is a constant theme. (Neeson’s professional life has been as a physicist working in energy development and technology innovation including the first climate monitoring systems.)
Those 70s Bohemias aren’t looking so hot 40 years later and Neeson’s paean to paradise is painfully insistent on the damage done by industrialization and mass tourism. “Our childhood playgrounds shape our dreams”, runs the text that opens the film. A then vs. now montage at the end of the film echoes the ominous title Neeson has chosen for his rhapsodic compilation of boys, men and more recently women too, swept up in the thrilling power of nature. How infuriating that the shadow hanging over these images of exaltation looms larger in the New Zealand of 2010 than ever. — NZIFF