Bill Gosden was Festival Director of the NZ International Film Festival for almost forty years, and established a relationship with the Wairoa Māori Film Festival to create the annual Ngā Whanaunga Māori Pasifika shorts. Leo Koziol reflects on Bill’s genius, at the sad news of his passing.

Growing up in Aotearoa, the NZ International Film Festival and its many tentacles across the country was always a cultural phenomenon you couldn’t miss.

I remember my Dad taking me to see “Some Like It Hot” with Marilyn Monroe in Gisborne in the ’80s (my first black and white film!) and then art house and kiwi fare at the film festival in Palmerston North when I was at Uni in the 90s (I don’t remember much of that screening of “Bad Taste” by the new kid on the block Peter Jackson, other than folks getting kicked out for boxed wine!)

In Auckland in the ’90s, the festival was appointment viewing. I remember being drunk in the back row of the Civic watching Madonna’s “Truth or Dare.” To discover whole new genres of film the festival was a must – mumblecore, new queer cinema, indigenous cinema, French film noir, the list goes on. Each year, film fans religiously archived their programme and looked forward once again to next year’s film feast.

Behind the scenes was always Bill Gosden. Like clockwork, he’d be in the news, battling yet another censorship war to get films to NZ audiences. Bill’s programming gave New Zealanders a taste for international art house cinema, he presented radical must-see political documentaries, and helped transform our nation into the diverse, progressive and intellectual society of today.

In 2012, I got to join the NZIFF programming team when Ngā Whanaunga Māori Pasifika shorts was created. The name was gifted by my mother Huia Koziol, whanaungatanga reflecting our connectedness by blood and storytelling across the Pacific. In 2014, Craig Fasi came on board as co-curator.

Each year, there was now a platform for Māori and Pasifika film makers to present their works in the big city film festival. Over the past seven years, over 50 Māori and Pasifika films have been a part of this programme, with film makers like Hamish Bennett (“Bellbird”) going on to present their first feature also at NZIFF.

Bill’s sudden early retirement two years ago came with the sad news of a cancer diagnosis. He left NZIFF at a peak – huge audiences across Aotearoa, and new venues such as the ASB Waterfront Theatre in Auckland, the new classy home for Ngā Whanaunga.

Bill was always a champion for Māori cinema. His festival screened “Ngati” and “Mauri” in the 1980s, and for 15 years NZIFF kindly let the Wairoa Māori Film Festival screen new Māori shorts before their “official” premiere in the big festival. Bill will be sorely missed – a totara has fallen in the great forest, or in his case perhaps a great oak or a giant wise walnut that fed film fest fans for decades.

Moe Mai, Bill, Moe Mai. Sleep well in that long sleep in cinema heaven. Your vision lives on.

CLICK HERE for the livestream link to Bill Gosden’s Memorial Service on Monday, 16th of November, 2020.