Premiere has town abuzz

Jack Body holds his ticket to the special advance screening of Pete’s Dragon. Jack was double for...
Jack Body holds his ticket to the special advance screening of Pete’s Dragon. Jack was double for lead actor Oakes Fegley, who played Pete. Photos by Gregor Richardson.
The West Otago reviews of Pete’s Dragon on Saturday were hotter than the flames produced by the giant green fire-breather.

There was praise galore on Saturday from the 800 residents lucky enough to see advance screenings of the movie, which will be released in New Zealand on September 15.

The screenings were a thank-you to the district from the film company for the hospitality they experienced during about five weeks of filming in and around Tapanui in April and May last year.

Excited murmurs went through the audience as familiar locations and faces came up on screen as they watched the movie in the West Otago Community Centre, in Tapanui.

Members of the Tapanui community, led by Tapanui West Otago Promotions chairman Horace McAuley ...
Members of the Tapanui community, led by Tapanui West Otago Promotions chairman Horace McAuley (centre), perform a song during the welcome for the Pete’s Dragon film executives.
American reviews have been glowing so far for the $88million movie by Walt Disney Studios, and West Otago critics agreed.

"I’d give it 10 out of 10," said Jack Body (9).

Jack, who lives on a farm near Tapanui, was the double for lead character Pete, played by American actor Oakes Fegley.

Jack said although there was lots of waiting around, being a double was exciting "and you got to do lots of stuff ...  it was a really different experience".

The Tapanui Primary School pupil was involved when scenes were being set up.

His mother Julia said the role boosted Jack’s confidence and sparked an interest in acting.

He had a part in the school production at the end of term.

"Never in your wildest dreams would you imagine anything like this would happen in Tapanui," she said.

Jack also worked as an extra and said he had recognised "the back of my head in one part ...  and saw lots of other kids I knew."

"It was really cool seeing the local town and places you knew, up on the big screen."

Joe Robertson (13), of Waikoikoi, also thought the movie was great.

He was in a scene which featured school children on a bus and he had to wear "old ’80s clothes".

Another extra, Brendon Stuart "thoroughly enjoyed" the screening and said it was amazing how much the town resembled an American town.

His daughter Grace (6) said her favourite part was the dragon.

The film stars Robert Redford, Bryce Dallas Howard, New Zealand actor Karl Urban and Wes Bentley, as well as the giant furry green dragon.

Tapanui West Otago Promotions chairman Horace McAuley recalled when plans to host the movie were first outlined to the promotions group.

"Afterwards, everyone looked at me, like ‘ What the hell’s that all about?’ It started from there and has grown .. to this.’’

All those involved found it an incredible experience, he said.

"To get a film here was just the greatest dream we had."

The district residents were thankful they were able to host the film cast and crew.

There had been some "chipping away", working towards getting the movie premiere in the town.

"We know you’ve been to Rotorua, Wellington and Auckland, but we know that we are the premiere, " Mr McAuley told the production crew.

Director David Lowery responded: "You are absolutely right, we’ve shown it before but today is the official premiere."

The mayors of Clutha, Gore, Invercargill and Southland, Bryan Cadogan, Tracy Hicks, Tim Shadbolt and Gary Tong, were at the screening.

Film Otago Southland executive manager Kevin Jennings said Pete’s Dragon would result in economic spin-offs for the wider area and the accolades from the film company were further proof the region was "film-friendly".

"The biggest thing is how beautifully it depicts this area. The town residents should have a spring in their step and puff out their chests."

lynda.van.kempen@odt.co.nz

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