A Cinema Of Unease

on October 10, 1995 by Alex Albanese
The movies are full of stories about the smalltown kid who dreams of going to Hollywood and becoming a star in order to bolster a shaky self-image, but "A Cinema of Unease" presents the case of an entire country, New Zealand, that desperately need- ed to see itself up there onscreen to prove that it really existed. And it seems that New Zealand has succeeded, having created almost by sheer force of will a film industry to do just that. That the self-portrait these films have created is often less than flattering only makes things all the more interesting.
A documentary by New Zealand-raised actor and Hollywood star Sam Neill ("Jurassic Park," "The Piano"), "A Cinema of Unease" attempts to document the history of feature filmmaking in his adopted land. Because the film industry there is but two decades old (and a young Neill starred in its first feature), this documentary's scope remains well within Neill's grasp. In partnership with co-scripter Judy Rymer, he makes his cinematic essay both highly informative and delightfully personal as it deftly unites the themes of a national need and a personal need for attention that only the silver screen provides.
With quirky yet agreeable narration, Neill traces the flowering of an industry, making abundant use of clips that are edited into his onscreen appearances to create a sly repartee. He is confident enough in his topic and his audience to throw away his best gags, and his slightly uneasy presence is an interesting contrast to his usually self-assured screen persona. The contrast he embodies--a heroically good-looking leading man with an anxiety-ridden core--is also presented as the basis of his nation's psyche and cinema. The children who grew up isolated, surrounded by breathtaking vistas and dull conformity in a place where nothing ever happened, now grown have made something happen--something with a primordial strangeness brewing beneath the bland surface. Narrated by Sam Neill. Directed and written by Sam Neill and Judy Rymer. Produced by Paula Jalfon and Grant Campbell. A Miramax release. Documentary. Not yet rated. Run- ning time: 54 min.
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