Wellington Premiere Opening Night

Director Gaylene Preston (left) with Lady Susan Satyanand (right)

Lady Susan Satyanand, on behalf of the Governor-General, Hon Sir Anand Satyanand, officially opens the NZ Film Premiere of Home by Christmas.

20 April 2010

To: Gaylene Preston, Director, writer and producer of “Home by Christmas” and the Preston family,  to your co-producers,  Sue Rogers and Nigel Hutchinson,  to Your Worship Kerry Prendergast, Mayor of Wellington and  Rex Nicholls,  to the cast and the crew, Ladies and Gentlemen,  kia ora and good evening.

I am privileged to be here this evening for the New Zealand Film Premiere of “Home by Christmas” and speaking for my husband, Anand, the Governor-General.  He is taking things quietly after a four day abortive attempt to attend the State Funeral of the Polish President, Lech Kaczynski and his wife Maria Kaczynska.  They were recently tragically killed in an aircraft accident.

Anand arrived home yesterday and has been put on what he describes as a short leash for a couple of days and I’m glad that I have not been asked to pronounce the name of the offending Icelandic eruption!

Sixty-five years have passed since the devastation wrought by the Second World War.  Historians estimate it claimed the lives of 50 million people, including one in every 150 New Zealanders.  More still were injured or traumatised, which led to upset for ordinary families.  New Zealanders made an outstanding effort, at home and abroad, wherever it was called for but they paid a price in our homes.

In the Pacific, in the Mediterranean, in North Africa and Europe our service men and women fought with honour to defend democratic values from a totalitarian ideology.  The freedoms we continue to enjoy to this day are in part due to those who went to war.

Although we see international film representations about the parts of other countries played in the Second World War, it is important for us to see and understand our own significant contribution in the face of the threat to our well-being.  It is an important time in our country’s story and a potent influence on our thinking.

Soldiers and sailors and the Air Force were in the front line, there were nurses and doctors to tend to inevitable injuries, and then the families left behind, waiting and hoping for their beloved kin to return safely.  For 11,928 New Zealanders killed in the Second World War and many seriously hurt, there was much loss and grief which those at home needed to cope with, together with damage to relationships.

In five days’ time it is ANZAC Day and the perspective of families in the Second World War is the subject of this film.  War and conflict is about more than leaders, generals and the people involved in the battles.

Those who returned were changed and often unwilling or even unable to speak of the events that they had witnessed and participated in.  Dan Davin wrote in a 1947 book:

“…We’d never be able to make friends again the same way or drink and laugh and die the same way.  We’d used up what we had and we’d spend the rest of our lives looking over our shoulders.”

This film is special because it’s a result of patient interviews by Gaylene Preston.  Her father’s sharing of his wartime experiences was only possible within their close relationship.  The insights are Ed Preston’s gift to his daughter and her gift to us who had family in similar circumstances.

I am sure it will touch many hearts across New Zealand.  To quote Gaylene:

“What happened to them is really ordinary.  It’s shared by so many others because the war affected a complete generation.  This was part of what makes New Zealand what it is now.”

I can emphasise that sentiment by sharing that three of my uncles fought in the Second World War.  One went to Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands, another to Egypt and one fought in Crete soon to end up in a prisoner of war camp in Austria.

Congratulations to Gaylene on your success as a New Zealand filmmaker.  I know that Gaylene’s films have won awards in many countries, and not surprisingly she has been honoured by the New Zealand Arts Foundation, becoming New Zealand’s first Filmmaker Laureate.  I am sure that this film which you have produced and written will bring accolades to you and everyone involved.

Our thanks to the film crew and the cast of “Home by Christmas” for the effort you have put in and also to the New Zealand Film Commission and sponsors, we thank you for your assistance in bringing the story to the screen.

With all now looking forward to seeing the film tonight - and I know of others who are just as excited to see it in the days to come - it gives me very great pleasure to declare the film, “Home by Christmas”, officially open for viewing.