It was probably in the dying days of one-channel NZBC-TV that I saw Lost in the Garden of the World, so it was unavoidable. But the 1975 documentary was unforgettable, because it was about New Zealand and the world, culture and identity. Most importantly it wasn’t about sport, the only other occasions New Zealand seemed to feature internationally (though the broadcast of ‘God Defend New Zealand’ – mistakenly performed as our national anthem at the 1972 Munich Olympics – was also a cultural watershed).
Lost in Garden of the World follows a small New Zealand film crew as it makes a DIY documentary about the Cannes film festival. Tony Williams, who made many legendary advertisements (eg, the Crunchie ad, and Dear John for BASF tape), is the director. But the star is the frontman and scriptwriter Michael Heath, who swans about like a hippie Bruce Mason, waxing lyrically about the relationship New Zealand writers and artists have with the Northern Hemisphere, three-quarters of the way through the 20th century.
There were other stars in the film, the people they came across as they spontaneously and cheekily asked for interviews. Filmmakers I’d never heard of until the night of that broadcast, late on Friday as the August school holidays began: a small, hyperactive, bearded Italian-New Yorker who’d just directed Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (Martin Scorsese); a tall, young man who was about to release a film about a shark (Steven Spielberg); an apparently important German called Werner (seen here with Michael Heath on the right). Dustin Hoffman was charmed by the film crew’s chutzpah and offered to take messages for them on the phone at his outdoor cafe table.
About 15 years ago I went to the NZ Film Archive to see why the film had knocked me out so much at the age of 15. It turned out to be much more about “overseas” than New Zealand, and much more pretentious. But it was still an inspiring romp.
Lost in the Garden of the World can now be viewed in its entirety at the NZ On Screen site, which goes from strength to strength. They describe it as being about “Cannes is the town in France where Bergman meets bikinis, and the art of filmmaking meets the art of the deal.”