• Home
  • News
  • Heady Success for Young Filmmaker

Heady Success for Young Filmmaker

May 23, 2011

It was no ill omen when fledgling filmmaker Sarah Dickson’s beloved Pania statuette was decapitated in Christchurch’s earthquake earlier this year.

In fact, Sarah’s own head is in the clouds, having secured her first full-time job in an industry she has trained for and loves.
Pania is a trophy coveted by students doing EIT’s Diploma in Video and Electronic Media. Inspired by the iconic statue of the Maori maiden Te Pania in Napier’s Marine Parade Gardens, the gold-painted figurine is the top accolade at the annual end-of-year event organised by students doing the two-year programme.

Sarah won the award in 2009 and took Pania with her when she moved to Christchurch early the following year.

Originally from Timaru, she was keen to be closer to home and had her sights set on a job in the South Island. But, as her lecturers warned, securing a permanent position wasn’t easy.

Sarah took whatever industry jobs were going, making a couple of music videos and a short film. She also did an unpaid editing internship with a conservation group.

“It was midwinter, and my coldest job ever. I had to wear a puffer jacket all the time – one of the crazy things you do because you want the work.”

Although she wasn’t directly employed by Canterbury Television, Sarah was often in the ill-fated CTV building doing interviews for live broadcasts. Having met the staff, she was devastated to learn that the earthquake had collapsed the multi-storey structure, killing 116 people.

Before the disaster struck, Sarah had been interviewed for a job with Pickled Possum, a production company which makes children’s television programmes, and she was awaiting the company’s phone call when the tremors started. Fortunately, she came through physically unscathed but was traumatised by the loss of lives and city-wide devastation.

Moving back to Timaru to be with her family, she wondered if her career in the film industry might be over just as it was starting.
“I thought that’s it. I’m not going to do any more film work in Christchurch. Pickled Possum will relocate to Auckland or somewhere else.”

Later, supported by family and her partner Tom, Sarah ventured back into her Christchurch house and was amazed and relieved to find it undamaged. She had mixed feelings, however, when she discovered the Pania statuette. Her treasured figurine had lost its head as it toppled from pride of place on top of the TV set onto the floor.

“I cried and laughed at the same time. Apart from a couple of plates, it was the only thing damaged in the quake. It was a bit of light relief and sad at the same time.”

Then, some months after the quake, Sarah had a stroke of good fortune. She was phoned by Pickled Possum who told her they were staying on in Christchurch and would like to take her on as offset props and production assistant for a new children’s show called Tiki Tours to be screened on TVNZ.
“After all the drama around the disaster, that was the most amazing news,” says the delighted 24-year-old.
Rating her EIT study as “probably the best thing I’ve ever done”, Sarah stays in touch with her former lecturers. When she told these “incredibly good mentors” about Pania’s mishap, they proposed repairing or replacing the broken figurine – an offer she has courteously declined.

“I think she’s just perfect the way she is,” she says. “It’s probably the proudest thing I’ve even done, getting her. As she is now, she reminds me not only of Napier and EIT but also of Christchurch and the times we’ve been through together.”