Film-makers sing Tapanui’s praises

Pete’s Dragon crew (from left) director and co-writer David Lowery, co-writer Toby Halbrooks,...
Pete’s Dragon crew (from left) director and co-writer David Lowery, co-writer Toby Halbrooks, producer Adam Borba and executive producer Barrie Osbourne were special guests at the Tapanui screening of the movie. They praised the hospitality they were shown during filming last year. Photo by Gregor Richardson.
Tapanui is still basking in the glow of accolades from international film-makers for its warm and "magical" hosting of  film cast and crew.

On Saturday, the town hosted two advance screenings of Pete’s Dragon, the movie which was partly filmed in Tapanui last year.

For about five weeks, the town was transformed into Millhaven, a small logging town in the United States for the  $88 million remake of the movie by Walt Disney Studios.

Disney vice-president, film and television production planning MaryAnn Hughes was among the people singing Tapanui’s praises.

She was in the group of special guests at the Tapanui screening who were welcomed with a haka powhiri by Blue Mountain College pupils.

"The welcome today [Saturday] was so warm and welcoming. I was in tears and I know others were, too.

"You spoke from the heart and we were overwhelmed with emotion at that sense of community pride for your culture, pride for your community. That’s really, really special and something we haven’t experienced in other places,’’ she said.‘‘I think that translates through in the film too, and makes it magical."

Ms Hughes said it was an amazing experience to come to New Zealand and do the screenings as a way of  "giving back" for the hospitality shown to the film cast and crew.

"[Director] David Lowery and all the filming crew, all they could talk about was Tapanui and how it was their favourite place. They were asked that question at one of the other advance screenings and they all unanimously said Tapanui was their favourite," Ms Hughes said. 

"I wondered what that was all about and felt a bit left out, but now I know. Our film crew and cast had a great experience here and couldn’t have done it without the people of Tapanui."

She was sure the goodwill and co-operation shown during Pete’s Dragon would lead to more film-makers considering West Otago for movie projects.

Mr Lowery said he could not think of anywhere better to make a film.

"This is the second time you have welcomed us here. It’s 16 months since we spent the final month of filming here. I can’t imagine a better place to be. That was one of the best months of my life, one of the best human experiences and it helped us so much in the art we were trying to make, the entertainment we were trying to make.

"I can’t imagine making it anywhere better than New Zealand, anywhere better than Tapanui."

Based in Los Angeles, Mr Lowery said his visit to Tapanui felt like he was "returning home".

"I see lots of familiar faces here today. I hope you carry these memories for the rest of your life, as I know I will," he told the 500-strong crowd at the first screening.

He was keen to see what the locals thought of Pete’s Dragon.

"It’s opening in the States today and to be here [in Tapanui] as it opens there, is like coming full circle. We’re very proud of it, it’s very special and I hope it’ll have tourism spin-offs for this country." 

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