"I believe that the basic responsibility of New Zealand filmmakers is to make films principally for the New Zealand audience. If we don't, no-one else will."
Dame Gaylene Preston is a national treasure, with an exceptional career over more than three decades. An innovative writer, director, and producer, Dame Gaylene has insisted that it is possible to live in New Zealand and contribute New Zealand stories to global cinema, and her award-winning work has screened extensively at international festivals including Venice, Sundance, Toronto, London, Fantasporto, Chicago, San Francisco, Munich, Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Canberra, Adelaide, Brighton, Athena NY and New Zealand.
Dame Gaylene has served on most industry boards including the New Zealand Film Commission and New Zealand On Air, and has chaired Creative New Zealand's Film Innovation Fund and the New Zealand Film and Television Awards Society. At the same **time, as evidenced in her executive producer credits of many AWARD WINNING films, including Annie Goldson's Punitive Damage, Brita McVeigh's Coffee, Tea or Me? Michelle Savill's Ellen is Leaving and Paora Joseph's Tatarakihi - The Children of Parihaka, her generosity of spirit and her powerful mentorship and advocacy skills have been central to the development of New Zealand's contemporary filmmaking community.
In 2001 Dame Gaylene was the first filmmaker to receive an Arts Foundation Laureate Award and in 2002 she was made an Officer of the NZ Order of Merit for services to the film industry. In 2010 she received the inaugural lifetime achievement award for outstanding contribution to documentary from Documentary Edge. She also received a Screenwriters Mentorship Award and a WIFT NZ Award for outstanding contribution to the New Zealand Screen Industry. In 2016 she was awarded the SPADA Industry Champion Award and a NZ Women of Influence Award for Arts & Culture and in 2017 she was given the Premium Moa Award for services to cinema and the Lia Lifetime Achievement Award from the Tasmanian Stranger with My Face Film Festival. This year (2018), she will take up a prestigious Visiting Scholar position at The Intellectual Hub at Jesus College, Cambridge UK.
Dame Gaylene's feature film Home by Christmas won audience accolades at Sydney and London Film Festivals, and won High Commendation at the Asia Pacific Awards for the actor Tony Barry who also won Best Actor at the Qantas New Zealand Film Awards. Home by Christmas was a finalist for Best Drama in the World History Makers Awards 2011 in New York.
In 2014, her 6-hour mini-series Hope and Wire aired on TV3. A drama set during aftermath of 2010/11 earthquakes Christchurch New Zealand. Starring British actor, Bernard Hill and a stellar ensemble cast of New Zealand actors including Rachel House (a fellow Arts Foundation Laureate).
For many years, Dame Gaylene had been interested in making a Helen Clark documentary, and the possibility that Helen could become UN Secretary-General made 2016 the perfect time. Gaylene has known Clark since they met when New Zealand was leading the world in the 1980s by becoming nuclear free.
“I have witnessed Helen break down barriers as she’s gone from MP to Cabinet Minister, to New Zealand’s first elected female Prime Minister, and then the first woman to lead the UN Development Group. Helen is a formidable woman and leader, and I am privileged she gave my team access to tell this story.”
My Year With Helen is the documentary that came out of Dame Gaylene’s cameras following as Helen Clark campaign for Secretary-General while also carrying out her work as Administrator of UNDP, filming Clark in Botswana, Britain, Spain and Ukraine as well as the UN’s New York headquarters. Released in 2017, My Year With Helen gives a closely observed view of Helen’s bid for the top job, as the UN turns itself inside out in an effort to deliver unprecedented transparency in an historic year.
My Year With Helen had its International Premiere at the prestigious Athena Film Festival in New York in February 2018 and is currently touring internationally in a series of special screenings attended by Helen Clark and Dame Gaylene for Q&A sessions in places including Geneva, Maastricht, San Francisco, Palo Alto, London, Washington DC, Berlin and many more.
The New Zealand Film Archive holds viewing copies of many of Dame Gaylene's films as well as a collection of material that has been written about her. Anyone wanting access to this material should contact Archive staff. For more information visit Dame Gaylene's website.
Gaylene was made a Dame Companion in the New Zealand Order of Merit in the 2019 New Years Honours list.