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Manaakitanga at the heart of Canterbury Film Society

With an extensive archive of art house films and a strong sense of manaakitanga, the Canterbury Film Society makes its members feel part of a community.

The society recently took up residence at the Philip Carter Family Auditorium at the Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū – but it wasn’t an easy journey getting there.

Canterbury Film Society Vice President Helen Mann says the group went through a “complete renaissance” after the Canterbury earthquakes.

“We lost around 24 cinema screens in the February earthquake, which meant for people like us that have to have a tiered auditorium arrangement, we were totally dependent on being able to utilise whatever we could find,” she says.

“We found ourselves at crisis point – how do we move on from here? We not only had lost the venue space in the city, we’d lost half our members, the rest of the membership were anxious and many of them didn’t want to come back into the city. It didn’t look flash for quite some time, and each year we would balance our books and say ‘well, we’ve made it through, but what now?’”

For several years, the society bounced from venue to venue, trying to find a space which would fit their needs.

“We were able to use Hollywood Cinema in Sumner for a while, but it was a long way to travel on dark, broken roads. So we came into the city and Alice in Videoland kindly took us in, and then Gold Academy Cinema. These were fantastic, but we had a limit as to how many we could fit in there,” she says.

But when the society gained approval for Rātā funding, and the Art Gallery reopened following its refurbishment in 2015, Ms Mann says the society was completely transformed.

“It was a match made in heaven,” she says.

”It gave us freedom to do things like apply for an alcohol license and sell food – and now people come half an hour early just to socialise. We have a very strong culture of manaakitanga, of hospitality; we want people to come through the door and feel welcomed, to feel part of a community.”

Now she says the society is stronger than ever, with a membership of about 250 and a schedule of gripping films.

“Film has the capacity to do a whole lot of stuff; it’s entertaining, of course, sometimes it is informative, and quite often it can be transformational – that is the heart of what we want to do, we want to offer a whole palate of different things that people would not normally see, under voices that would not normally be heard, or groups in society that are under-represented.”

To check out this year’s programme and register your interest in becoming a member of the Canterbury Film Society, visit