“There aren't any sharks around here to keep the people away – In New Zealand you've got sandflies.”
Andy: What's your occupation?
When I'm not doing filmmaking, I'm a physicist. A consultant physicist. I've always worked for myself - since my first job I was always self-employed.
Andy: Is this the reason why we see all the machines?
Clive: Basically I studied physics and electronic engineering so I applied that to oceanography and also to the energy industry. So now I do investigation work, I investigate catastrophes and work out the cause of them with physics.
Andy: Earthquakes and stuff?
No no no no no – that's industrial catastrophes, like an oil rig might blow up and then I'll go in and find out from the design of the control systems and from the physics, the therma-dynamics, what caused the catastrophe. So physics and electronic engineering are pretty much what you need…
You have a lot of work here with the oil rigs, isn't it?
Yeah, but you have to go worldwide to find catastrophes, yeah? I was originally in design and then later on – once you had a lot of experience – then catastrophe investigation is a good thing to be in.
That helps you to travel – and travel/surf and do all your collecting of the material for the movie – because you had to travel?
Yeah – not so much for the movie because with the movie you have to go to places in a certain season and you have to be there according to some kind of schedule and so with work as well. But what work does allow for is – after work is done you may find yourself in Singapore or Bali or something and then you can just go to the local surf venue or whatever like that and you can continue your travels after the project is finished. But not so with film-making. As you know, film-making has a tight schedule, you have to follow events and if you want to get the best of everything with film-making you've got to be there just at the right time.
Especially when it comes to surfing?
Surfing is the most weather-dependent, critically weather-dependent, filming pursuit you can ever have. And people who don't film surfing – that is quality-surfing- don't appreciate that. You can't just set up a studio and queue the action and get on with making the film. You could wait for months for the right thing to come along. Unfortunately a lot of movies have compromised surfing in them – because people go out there expecting within a framework of two months to get some shots in the country they are not going to, you know. We took 45 years to get our shots, but then we were there at the right days and because the film costs so much money – we weren't gonna waste film on the wrong day (laughs).
We already expect that – we won't have many good swells during our trips so we said – ok – we'll take the best swell seasons – spring and autumn in Europe – and make two trips – and we hope that we get some big swells as well, but you never know. So. ok, that's quite interesting. And you were born here – in Oakura/Taranaki?
No, me and my three brothers were brought up in Africa on safari, so we lived a very mobile – bohemian existence when we were young. And we were always travelling, but it was always in the outdoors, so we have a kind of bohemian spirit, I think. And of course our parents were filming, that's why they were travelling, so we already were used to...
So you were from the beginning introduced in filming and..
Yeah, I was familiar with the camera when I was very young. And in the 1960ies I was able to film movies, so that was very early in the surfing world then, hmmhm.
I reckon the time with „Endless Summer“...(laughs)...when they did their trip...
Yeah, same era...hmhmm
So you got all the equipment from your parents in the beginning?
No, no. They wouldn't let me touch their camera. No, I had to buy a broken one – second hand – and I fixed it and then I built accessories for it like water-housings and so on – which you couldn't buy then – you had to figure a way to do it so I just figured that out in my father's chicken-house (laughs).. we used to make surfboards there so I figured out how to put this camera inside a housing, yeah...
Good. Can you give me a short synopsis about Last Paradise? What is it about? What's the message behind it?
Well, we say that Last Paradise is/uses the world's most exciting story to address the world's most crucial issues. And so with the story of the evolution of extreme sports, we take you through 50 years of travel and show you how the world has changed and the real issues that have come out of that and also the solutions. Normally in a film – in a documentary – only the people interested in the subject of that documentary – especially environmental documentaries – would attend the documentary. And we saw a problem right from the beginning that if we could make the film very fun, and all the environmental content was subliminal, then people would see it as entertainment and the message would go further. And that's exactly what has happened. Bearing in mind that the film began when I was 15 years old and it was kind of scripted when I was 17 years old, yeah 45 years of filming – ahm – no other kind of film could take you on a journey and show you the way the world was and the way it is now...and have you realise what's happened. You really need the original footage to do that over 45 years.
Ok good. You say „WE“. Who is we? Who is the crew?
The crew – ahm -
How many people were working on Last Paradise?
Well – really me! (laughs)
...by „we“ I mean – me and filming – but „me“ being the people that I did the journey with. Yeah, and these were the pioneers of what we know today as extreme sports.
That's what we see in the documentary as well – with the bungee-jumping...What is his name – who invented the bungee-jumping?
AJ. AJ Hackertt. Well, New Zealand is known internationally as the capital of extreme sports. So if there is any one country that has this story...but we never told it before and in our film – that's the only film – that has told that story. That's why we say it is the most exciting venture in the world because it is the only time that story has ever been told and it is the only footage that exists of that story and we managed to acquire it all. So „we“ is all the pioneers of extreme sports. But they also started as surfers. All of them started as surfers.
So you surfed with them together?
Yeah, we met as kids and as teenagers...and then we became, I suppose, just a lose maverick bunch that all knew each other and all divised in different sports. Yeah...
So the story of Last Paradise is often seen as a surf movie...because it just so happens that the characters began the maverick journey as surfers...but then they branched out into every extreme sport you can think of and it was just that quest for adrenaline that had them seek other sports. And well, they travelled...they travelled the countries where there wasn't necessarily surf, so they pursuit other things...or they took the surfboard concept into the mountains...and other places where there were no waves...hmhm
And for you – the message? What is it? What should a visitor in a cinema who sees the movie take with him? Because you said, you want to ...the movie has humour – it's fun...but it is also educating, it says: Come on, there are so many things we have to protect and we have to look after nature...be careful...what should they take with them when they leave the cinema?
Every generation sees the world...how do we say that....every generation accepts the world that they are born into. And each generation we lose sight of the way the planet is meant to be. In Last Paradise we show them how the world once was - a lifetime before them. Very few films do that. What I want them to go away with is a clear vision of what is normal for this planet. And you won't see that around you today. And you won't see it in many films at all. But in original footage you will see it subliminally here. We are not telling you anything in Last Paradise, we are just taking you on a fun journey. And you will feel and experience all the rest – incidentally.
Will this change the mind of people? So that you can say, I go out of the cinema and say ok, now I'm joining a grass-roots group or I stop things...Do you think that minds can be changed with the movie? Or is it just one thing and you have to do more...another movie maybe...or connect people with activists and stuff...can a movie change minds?
Oh, a movie can definitely sway...we had Last Paradise playing in front of governors in USA recently and I'm sure they are influenced. But what I notice from the screeenings and what has been said by university professors is that people talk about the film and the contents/contage? of the film for weeks after...they just ...somehow it possesses them...and they keep dewlling upon the issues in the film...and I think that's exactly what we want. Because it doesn't stop when they leave the cineme, it doesn't stop when they see the next film. They keep on dealing with the issues, and resolving these issues in their own life daily. And I think that's quite powerful. So, there may be other films that carry it further, but it definitely has a very strong influence. And that has been evidential from the screenings we have had in the USA.
I think that will have impact in Europe as well. That's the reason why we want to do this documentary as well because it is focused on surf, but the common idea is to show communities in all these landscapes and regions, culture and the common idea is that surfing connects everybody. There is no documentary in Europe, no surf documentary that does that. So normally it is about surf porn, just showing one wave after the other and not inspiring or challenging people.
Ok, that's why I think Last Paradise will do really well there, because we travelled Europe a lot and we filmed Europe – I believe – we were some of the few people that actually filmed Europe way back in the 70ies when surfing was hardly known then and captured the culture and the traditions that were alive then, they are not alive now. And I think the thing is that people really get taken to a very emotional ride with Last Paradise because they become so innamite and loving about the way the world was then that they are really alarmed when they come out of the cinema and find that it is all gone. And that's really powerful.
So I think the fact that we've got the original footage and the story of how that all went is quite unique and quite powerful there. So I'm really looking forward to taking it to Europe, actually. And also – I think in Europe I believe they really appreciate in places like Germany when the film-maker turns up and can talk about the issues, you know. And we're not talking about just the issues with regards to surfing, we take all the issues that concern the world, all the way to the energy crisis in the next decades...and we've had some of the world's best scientists help us with the film in that sense, too.
So – when I started writing the script for Last paradise, I looked at all the Top-100 issues that are facing the world today and I was determined to deal with them all and deal with the solutions as well. So it's all between the lines, you don't realise until after the film and if you see it again and again more comes out of it...because there are so many layers in the film...rather than make 3 films – which I was told I should do – I put it all into one film – but with many, many layers...hmmhm
What's the situation in New Zealand like when it comes to the protection of the environment?
New Zealand has one advantage to the rest of the world and this is linked to the root cause of all the problems over the world – and that is it has low population...it's one blessing...other than that I don't believe New Zealand has any other superiority in terms of environmentalism...in fact, we get away with stuff here that you woudn't get away with in Europe...because we can dialute the effect of whatever the pollution is...also I think New Zealand is in danger of pursuing the failed model of economic growth, that is that we need perpetual physical growth to attain economic growth...that is a failed paradigm and New Zealand is pursuing it with figure...to the worry of those people who have been worried about that for a long time...
And how do you see the growth of tourism in the last decade in New Zealand?
Perhaps in New Zealand we’ve pursued tourism too much – to the point of pursuing it at all costs. And we haven’t put in place the protective measures which are needed when tourism expands to the extent it has done here. Obviously, everywhere we go now…you see in Last Paradise film all these amazing places we discovered as kids and we used to go to regularly – we can’t go to now, because there is some commercial tourist operation running there and we – you see that over-crowded or we would basically have to line up with the tourists to do it – or that would be interfering with our pursuits. So we’ve paid quite a big price for it in fact.
So it makes you sad that you can’t go without paying to some places?
No, it’s not the case that we don’t have to pay – it’s the fact that there is no sense of discovery any more…and I think a lot of the adventures have gone out of it…because to protect the tourists there has been certain protective measures in place that prevent the adventurous people from doing what they normally do. We talk about it daily because it affects our everyday life…but remember: we live a life of extreme adventure (laughs). In Last Paradise these were the pioneers – for most of the New Zealanders - it wouldn’t affect them at all.
Does it make you laugh when you see all these fancy advertisements about the great adventure and go down the Whanganui river and the biggest adventure and have the great surf adventure?Adventure here, adventure there, thrill here, thrill there? I mean, that must make you laugh because you really had this adventurous life – decades ago – and now it is like you can buy a bit of that?
No, it doesn’t make me laugh, I’m glad that many people are able to enjoy the places that we enjoyed…and to do it safely, because they can do it without having to do the training and put the skills in and they can still experience it. And the good thing that comes out of adventure tourism is that people learn to love nature and then they will vote to protect it. And the more people in the world can do that – the better. It is just up to our government to make sure that there is not detriment: no damage to the nature in pursuing tourism.
And does the government do a good job? With the DOC for example? The Department of Conservation?
Unfortunately our DOC has a very curtailed budget now and so they struggle to do what’s required. We’ve seen a lot of our beautiful hiking treks close down – even in this village here where I live…we constructed a beautiful hiking trek but DOC say they cannot maintain it – so we’ve lost it. And that is something which used to keep the village healthy day to day – we’ve lost it because their budget doesn’t extent far enough. And it’s up to each government to prioritise what money they put forward to adventurous pursuits for the people that live here – not just the people who are visiting here…
But in general there would be enough money because of the tourism to give DOC enough money to manage all this, correct?
In the past there was. Strangely now we have more tourism but there is less money. That’s ironic…
That makes me thin: More tourism – there is more money coming to the country but…
Certainly not. We have way more tourism today than we ever used to – yet we have less budget to be able to maintain the wilderness that people come here to see. And it could just be the big economic situation we are struggling with at the moment.
Some more general questions on the movie: How do you finance it? Privately or do you have donors?
No, I approached everybody, the New Zealand film commission, the New Zealand tourism, anybody that might be interested in a beautiful film about New Zealand…and it seems like…I don’t think they realise the potential for it and so it was holding me up…waiting for finance and for assistance. So I was so determined, I made the film anyway, it was gonna be a million dollars, I made it for half a million dollars, but I had to use all my own money to do that. So all the production of the film was totally self-financed…right from the age of 15…which is just lots and lots of work…(laughs)…half a million dollars – it’s not easy…six years to actually make it but also during that 6 years working to raise the half million dollars by just working hourly-right at a job…
Did you do all the after-effects and all the stuff by yourself?
No, I employed two editors part-time to do that. I did the music-directing and the directing and the producing…and narration…anywhere where I could lease money…anything I could do myself I did myself…but we used the best, you know? We used Peter Jackson’s team that made Lord of the Rings, you know…I was gonna make the best-quality surf-movie that I have ever heard of and so I just made sure I got the money together…
That’s more like a personal question for me because we are now intending to convince sponsors as wel. We don’t want to sell our movie, you know? But we really need partners who help us and get the idea. I can understand that you say there are so many people who don’t get the potential of a project…
Well – they were telling us in the film commission that they wanted to see more violence in the movie and more blood and gore – and I said – CU later! You know? Because you guys really don’t understand what we are doing here and besides I don’t even respect their kind of paradigm that comes from Hollywood that movies have to be about sex, violence and horror or they won’t sell…CU later, I’m gonna change all that, you know…and I laugh at you if it does sell…and it has done really well, you know. So I’m glad and I just snub them…and that’s the way movies are gotta go – we gotta show people that the public out there likes to see fun, positive movies and that they don’t have to have that crab in them to make it to the market. And if they do have that crab in them and make it to the market they should be shown anyway – in my terms, you know– that’s just the scruples of film-making…but unfortunately that’s not what Hollywood does. It’s all about money, you know. And the sooner that dies, the better – the better shape the world’s going to be in. The sooner the Hollywood paradigm of movie-making dies, the sooner the world starts on a healthy track - because that’s what is going into people’s minds every day. And the formula for making that is that it must contain those three things – even when you come to marketing it they tell you that. I say “no” – “No, you are on the wrong track. We are doing something different here and if you don’t want to support it then that’s fine, but we gonna go with it – because we think it’s worth a try”. And it certainly has worked, you know? I hope many more people will follow that model…
Yeah, it’s good – with all the equipment, the prices for good cameras is low now. There are so many possibilities for making good movies with low budget, don't you think?
Well, you can do, but it’s more…about does the movie entertain? And entertain in a positive way without having to shock people and disgust people and…because those kind of movies – although people go and see them – at the end they are losing – they are at a loss – they have lost something, you know…for example, I was 15 years old when I saw a film called “Jaws” and when I came out from that movie I was really, really angry with the producer. I was really angry with them – I would have thrown a pie in his face if I had met the guy…was it Spielberg or something like that? Greedy bugger…because he ruined the ocean experience for millions of people…he ruined it for the people around me – not the extreme people, but all those people who could have really enjoyed it. But he got rich! And that’s all that mattered. And he made a movie career. Well, I despise that…he did not build his career on a good thing. For me - he didn’t. And for many people who lost their enjoyment of the ocean - which we try to give back to them, we are trying to win back respect for the ocean and enjoyment for the ocean…and we’ve got Spielberg having taken us in the wrong direction right from the beginning. Has anybody told the world that?
Do we have to kill that beast?
Has anybody told the world how much Spielberg cost the planet to make his money? Has anyone told the world that? We know that but the public doesn’t know that. They just stay away from the water…and they just see the ocean as being an alien place. And all those great people out there making ocean movies are trying to patch up the bad work that he has done. Spielberg…
Do you already plan for future projects?
No, not at the moment. I mean, I have started this film when I was 15 years old, I put everything into it and I just don’t think that it is appropriate to do a runner-up…I think, what’s ahead is the best part which is getting the film out there to the world…and that’s the most exciting part…it has been incredibly taxing and hard work to now but the journey really has just begun in terms of letting the film do its work…I’ve spent five years probably taking the movie around the world.
For our generation it’s much harder to discover something in the world because everything is in travel guides…
Oh, that’s interesting…yeah, yeah…well, you know “Last Paradise” is about the spirit of adventure, because even we in the movies reached the point where things were saturated and we had to find a new horizon – and it’s about the spirit of innovation as well…so, as much as showing people how the world was it’s about saying “Hey – there is a spirit of innovation which is the golden egg”…that is the answer…it’s for you to find an avenue where you can rediscover a certain aspect of the world or even a new sport – there is so much more out there, but what you need is the right spirit to do it. So if you go out to the world today and travel and expect that you are going to find that spirit just by picking up a travel guide, you gonna guarantee you gonna follow on everyone else’s footsteps. What we are saying is: Go and find something new, even in a totally different way of doing it – that is your own – and what you come back with is something very personal…
I think it’s time for rediscovery in film-making and book-writing. There must be another approach. Lonely Planet has every piece of information but no inspiration.
I also find it interesting that you say we can do everything now because everything is discovered and easy to access. This is something for our generation – maybe we can get back to the relationship with nature (destroyed by movies such as Jaws)..
The challenge we face today is that so many young people are not spending time in nature and it’s…you can’t just form a relationship with nature on a few trips away…you have to actually spend – ideally – your childhood being very, very comfortable out there…lots of time camping in nature with your parents when you are kids…the happiest times of your life should be when you are camping in nature and that will create an individual…
That’s not what’s going to happen if all the people are moving into cities...
That was one of the things I tried to address of the hundred things in the film…did you notice that issue of the urbanization? In fact, the Basque people represented the opposite of urbanization…small communities and the pride, satisfaction and sense of purpose and identity that they had in a small community. And living in a small community - and the picture that we painted of that in Spain showed people – obviously – the other side …which is going to the city you gonna lose all that, aren’t you? And you can see that is what has happened. Our governments need to work constantly on de-urbanization because urbanization is what happens if you do nothing.
It’s the natural trend – people go to the city to where the commerce is, the business is, universities are…the government constantly needs to make sure that universities are not in the cities…that the processing of the dairy product is in the country and not in the city and so on…keep transplanting it out there and then that will make for a more connected country – and a better wilderness, of course.
I think that media can do a big job. There is so much bad story-telling all the time. Awareness is good but don’t make people afraid…
Well, they work like film. It’s all about sensation and horror. They have to create the headlines with some bad story about bees rather than some great story…if a swarm of bees comes to town that’s fantastic…they are alive…they do well…if kids are living in the city and you are trying to tell them that the population of the world is devastating the wilderness because of its demands for food and so on, they have got no idea of the quantification of that because they haven’t been to the country to see how big the farms are and in fact the farms now are all grass where there used to be half trees and they had to cut the trees down to produce more produce for the cities…they don’t understand that.
If they grew up in the country and they saw how the farms used to be – like around here – they are different now. It’s all about productivity and that people don’t live on the farms, farm managers live there, but families don’t live there any more…because they close down the little dairy factories and the little communities are all these ghost towns now...and the schools are closed down…they have all moved to the city…and that was a stupid move. That has just created a lot of people in the city who don’t know what’s happening in the country and this beautiful countryside is being unappreciated…and of course the weeds are being controlled by chemicals because a big farm is a lot of work to control…hmhhm
Thank you! Let’s take some pictures…
Clive Neeson hat für seinen Film Last Paradise eigenes Filmmaterial aus 45 Jahren zusammengetragen. Der wohl außergewöhnlichste Streifzug durch die Geschichte des Abenteuersports.
Website Last Paradise