by Austin Salt-Cowell
As the film capital of New Zealand, Wellington is the place to go for any filmmaker in 2020. The suburb of Miramar alone is home to every facility needed to make an entire feature film – Weta Workshop, Weta Digital, Park Road Post Production and Stone Street Studios. So, it begs the question, if Peter Jackson can do it, why can’t everyone else?
He played a leading part in developing the industry here, inspiring an entire generation of people to pick up a camera, shoot some scenes and take advantage of the beautiful landscapes and varied people that New Zealand has to offer.
I moved here because I hoped that, with the firm film-industry base, I could find crew who would be willing to follow me on filmmaking journeys all across the country.
I focus on making documentaries; currently shorts, which I’ve found are cheaper to make, easier to shoot and more engaging for an audience – the majority of people are more willing to sit through a 15-minute short versus a 90-minute feature. My latest film, Death Cafe, took my crew and I down to Christchurch – a city which I believe is in need of redemption.
Released on RPM Media  this week, this film explores the bizarre, yet supportive role of a Death Cafe, where strangers meet to discuss all forms of life and death, to form some closure about their recently-departed loved-ones.
After the battering earthquakes and recent shooting, Christchurch is a community that is attempting to rebuild an identity. Although many of its residents have since left, the ones who stay are resilient and very willing to speak up for their city.
Following the recent death of my best friend’s father, I learnt that she attended a community group in the UK, known as a ‘death cafe’. I had never heard of such a thing. It did, however, pique my interest and after a few weeks researching, I realised that these cafes were present all around the world, so I ventured out to find one in New Zealand. And this led me and my crew to Christchurch.
The making of the film not only put me in touch with a fascinating community of people, but it also gave me a much wider understanding of the social issues that New Zealand tackles every single day. I hope that people will be intrigued by the subject matter – it’s a bizarre concept, to discuss death with strangers. Ultimately I aim to make audiences care for these peoples’ stories, believe in the open-minded discussion of death, maybe even inspiring them to go and open-up with their own friends and family.
Austin Salt-Cowell is a filmmaker based in Wellington. Born and raised in the UK, he spent his formative years closely following the broadcasting of Louis Theroux’s documentaries on BBC. After graduating from the University of Westminster in 2016, Austin set out around the world, to find his own style of strange subjects to tackle.