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Central Otago and The Power of the Dog: the region's film hopes

Mar 28, 2022

Central Otago will be watching the 94th Academy Awards with anticipation as The Power of the Dog is up for a pack-leading 12 nominations.

The movie, a critical darling, was filmed primarily in Otago.

Dame Jane Campion has become the first woman to be twice nominated for best director, while its stars are also up for most of the major categories and the movie is tipped as favourite for best picture.

But closer to home it is the uncredited co-star - the sparse landscape of Maniototo - filling locals with pride.

Philippa Pope, who lives on the sheep and beef farm which was converted into 1920s Montana for the film, said it was surreal seeing her home featured in such a way at the Academy Awards.

"We love it and admire it daily, and we feel very privileged now that the rest of the world is able to share it with us," she said.

Her partner Al McKnight and his brother Graeme farm Braeside, the 5500 hectare sheep and beef farm turned Hollywood backdrop.

The way they came to play host to Hollywood was fairly low-key, Pope said.

"We were working in our sheepyards and a car stopped on the road, and a man got out and walked across the paddock and climbed a fence and said 'Hi, I'm a film scout are you interested in having a movie made on your land?'."

Pope said she went home and ordered the book by Thomas Savage that the film is based on that night and was immediately excited by the prospect.

However, the McKnight brothers, whose family had farmed the land for almost 150 years, took a little bit of arm-twisting to be convinced.

"We're fortunate in that it was made at the very top end of our farm, and we have facilities on other parts of our farm that we could use. But [the brothers] very quickly came on board with the whole thing and enjoyed every moment of it as well."

Pope said they would be hosting an Oscars' watch party with a few close friends, a bottle of bubbly and everyone dressing up for the occasion.

While the Ida Valley farm played host to the Burbank brother's farmhouse and barn in the movie, the wider Otago area also got a good screening with Oamaru's Victorian precinct and the Dunedin Railway Station also used as locations.

Jane Campion. Photo: AFP

Film Otago Southland chairperson Brad Hurndell said the success of The Power of the Dog was a coup for the local film industry, especially with the border soon re-opening.

"It's a bit of a chance to celebrate that with the new announcements and the flights starting to build back up again for bookings and then also a chance for the crew and the supporting industries that were involved to be able to show off their locations and their home on a world stage - so it's a fantastic combination," he said.

Central Otago mayor Tim Cadogan said hosting the production of The Power of the Dog was a pleasure for the district and a good economic boost at a time of great uncertainty following New Zealand's initial lockdown in March 2020.

With plans for a film studio in nearby Wānaka in the works, Cadogan hoped the movie and its success had put Central Otago on film makers' maps.

Central Otago District Arts Trust co-ordinator Rebekah de Jong said the area had long-held a reputation for inspiring artists.

With Oscars success for The Power of the Dog, she expected it would only help it grow.

"The Power of the Dog going up for an Oscar means people will see Central Otago as a place where world-class artists can draw inspiration from and where top-class movies ... can be created," she said.

Coverage of the 94th Academy Awards starts at 11.30am on TVNZ 2, with the awards ceremony beginning at 1pm.

* Join RNZ for live coverage of the Academy Awards Monday starting about 1pm NZ Time.

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