The film follows Lena, a first-year student at Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington, who returns to the city with a desire to connect with her Māori culture and heritage. Through her dreams, and with the help of the mysterious Tai, Lena’s curiosity leads her on a fantastical journey to confront the secrets of her past, present, and future.
Dr Alfio Leotta from the School of English, Film, Theatre, Media Studies, and Art History, who produced the film, says “A few months ago we had the idea of producing a fantasy film that would showcase the university, its history and buildings. We also thought it would be a great idea to showcase the wealth of talent in our creative disciplines.”
The team in charge of the 125th anniversary celebrations provided support for the film, and they also connected the production team with Associate Professor Mere Skerrett from the School of Education, who suggested the story could incorporate aspects of local Māori mythology.
“Mere’s support was invaluable in managing the cultural aspects of the story in a respectful and authentic way,” Dr Leotta says.
The film itself involved a cast and crew of over 60 people, most of whom are students, staff, or alumni.
“For many students this was a great opportunity to work in a large production. It was also very exciting for film students to collaborate with their design counterparts who produced the VFX and animation for the film,” Dr Leotta says. “The scope of the project was very ambitious, with in-person filming combined with VFX and animated sequences.”
In total, the film took around 9 months to complete.
The majority of the scenes were filmed at the University, mainly in the Library, the Beaglehole Courtyard, and the Hunter Building. Dr Leotta, as well as director, co-writer, and co-producer Cameron Madams, said they loved turning such well-known areas of the University into a magical fantasy setting. Both Cameron and co-writer and co-producer Emma O’Brien said they loved working with the cast and crew to create the film.
“I’ve been on my fair share of film sets in various roles, and there hasn’t been one role I haven’t loved,” Emma says. “This film was really special to me, because it was the first that had a cultural story I identified with.”
“Cameron and I had a lot of fun sitting at Vic Books and bouncing ideas off each other, and despite our varying styles I think we pulled together a pretty decent story,” Emma says.
“Directing is always such a privilege but the role also comes with a great deal of responsibility. I love being able to exercise my own creative vision while collaborating and experimenting with others. Working with such talented actors was very rewarding (and slightly intimidating), especially the legendary Tanea Heke. I learned so much throughout the process,” Cameron says.
“In terms of the making of the film, my favourite part was getting to collaborate (have some wild, weird and wonderful conversations) with such amazingly talented people—especially regarding the cinematography and editing with Adam Browne.”
A special screening of Follow the Light was held as part of the University’s Heritage Day on 5 November 2022. The production team plan to hold further screenings of the film over the coming year, with the hopes of premiering it at a film festival.
Follow the Light
Directed by: Cameron Madams
Screenplay by: Cameron Madams and Emma O’Brien
Produced by: Dr Alfio Leotta, Cameron Madams and Emma O’Brien
Executive Producers: Professor Doug Easterly, Dave Hakaraia, Kevin Romond, Associate Professor Mere Skerrett, Associate Professor Paul Wolffram
Cinematography: Adam Joseph Browne
Cast: Parekawa Finlay, Tanea Heke, Sebastian Hunter, Emma Katene, Professor David O’Donnell