TBI Q&A: Gabriel White

Filmmaker Gabriel White tells us about his first feature film, Oracle Drive, which premieres at the 2013 NZ International Film Festival.


Filmmaker Gabriel White tells us about his first feature film, Oracle Drive, which premieres at the 2013 NZ International Film Festival this week.

'Occupying a territory somewhere between ironic essay film and reverie, Oracle Drive roves the well-mown desolation of the North Shore’s light-industrial urban fringe.'

During what hours of the day do you feel most inspired?

To produce - the afternoon. To ingest - after 10pm

How would a good friend describe your aesthetic or style?

Organic, poetic, but not in a goody goody way.

What aspect of your creative practice gives you the biggest thrill?

Seeing it take its final shape

How does your environment affect your work?

Very directly. It's what I interrogate

Do you like to look at the big picture or focus on the details?

Big picture

What's your number one business tip for surviving (and thriving) in the creative industries?

Get a day job that you like

Which of your projects to date has given you the most satisfaction?


Who or what has inspired you recently?

Markus and Karin Hofko

Tell us a bit about your background.

I'm from a liberal 1970s inner-city family. My Mum is a retired educator. My Dad is a retired lawyer. One of our family dogs was the naughtiest dog in Ponsonby. He was called Otto, after Richard von Sturmer's film and play The Search For Otto. We spent many many hours searching for Otto.

Tell us about your film Oracle Drive from inception to conception.

I suppose seeing how a pre-European landscape with it's own rich tapestry of tales and myths had been ruthlessly supplanted by a modern city inspired me to make a film which perhaps vengefully transposed mythology back onto that indifferent edifice. I was reading Robert Graves' The Greek Myths at the time. Then one day I was driving on the Northern Motorway. I looked up and saw a huge data storage warehouse on a hillock and thought of the Parthenon. I took the off ramp and turned right down Data Way which led me to Oracle Drive. And that's how I got the title and the core scenery for the film.

Oracle Drive drew on the art direction talents of Markus Hofko, the musicianship of Chris O’Connor and performance skills of the likes of actor Nick Butler (Woodenhead), poet and artist Richard von Sturmer and performance artist Karin Hofko. Richard also wrote the song for the film, which is used as a key structural device.

The performances in the film were very immediate responses to the various sites. Initially I worked alone, then one-to-one with others, then with pairs of performers. As the ideas grew I used larger groups. The performers were conceived as statues or mannequins, or bohemians of the inner city, fancifully transplanted to its fringes. I asked the performers to retain a god-like aloofness from their surroundings.

The monologues provided a narrative voice in the film. They can be removed and reflective, sometimes sardonic, sometimes whimsical, sometimes self-questioning.

I thought of the landscape as the central character of the film. That's why I remain a rather shady figure along with the other performers. We're not the focus. Visually the film allows you not only to view the landscape, but to start to see how one part of it connects to another, literally and metaphorically. Fixtures such as buildings, street signs, trees or billboards that may at first seem insignificant or banal become iconic markers or bridges between the various sites. The visual and metaphorical mapping becomes deliberately disorienting as fictional elements are added through playful intervention, performance and digital manipulation.

At a certain point in the filming, we decided to do a heli-shoot, which we crowdfunded. If I'm honest it was a Feliniesque bit of indulgence, but it also helps to unify what otherwise seems a disparate grouping of sites.

The editing of the film took a long long time. In the end Markus, really helped resolve the structure adding many bits of magic and cutting out the monologues in which I restated my precious themes just a bit too obviously for him. He dug up bits of footage that I had discarded which showed those same ideas from less predictable angles.

In the end, the film strikes a balance between the spiritual autobiography or scrapbook of the imagination that it is meant to be, and something more like a proper film! It's between and betwixt many things, but above all, it's open-ended, like an oracle.

What combination of people and resources were involved to complete it?

The film is a mingling of my imagination with those of the performers, musician Chris O'Connor and effects artist Markus Hofko. Amelia Harris has had a lot of input into the thing as a whole and a few of the monologue ideas came from her too.

Tell us a bit about your other upcoming projects.

I'm currently developing musical and visual ideas for a South Auckland film.

If you could go back and choose a completely different career path to the one you've chosen, what would it be?

An explorer or traveller of some kind. Space, underwater, caves, deserts, mountains, jungle, cities. Or a magic realist writer. Italo Calvino to be precise.

What place is always with you, wherever you go?

The vacant lot on the corner of Pember Reeves street and Ponsonby road. It's about to be developed. There was a short dirt ramp topped by a small concrete slab you could do jumps from on your BMX.

What's the best way to listen to music, and why?

In the car. Alone. Because it's embryonic.

You are given a piece of string, a stick and some fabric. What do you make?

Music and a story.

What's the best stress relief advice you've ever been given?

Leave Auckland.

What’s great about NZIFF?

They are warm and welcoming. And they take risks like screening my film.

What’s your big idea for 2014?

A new film based on South Auckland.

* * *

  • Oracle Drive is on at the 2013 NZ International Arts Festival on July 22 and 23.

Gabriel White (b.1971) is a New Zealand filmmaker. His latest work is Oracle Drive (2013) a feature film set in Auckland's North Shore. Other works include The World Blank series (travelogues, 2001-10), The Unplanned Masterpiece (2009) about the history of Auckland and Stories of Tamaki (2010) about the Maori history of the Auckland area. He is currently working on a new project set in South Auckland.

Oracle Drive from Gabriel White on Vimeo.

Written by

The Big Idea Editor

19 Jul 2013

The Big Idea Editor Cathy Aronson is a journalist, photo journalist and digital editor.

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