When Movie Stars Came to Town: A Central Otago Family’s Farm Has Been Remodeled for Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog

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Born and raised in Maniototo, central Otago, Al McKnight is a fourth generation sheep and cattle breeder. He has called his cattle by several names over the years, but “movie stars” is not one of them.

As it turns out, her cattle will be on display to the world in theaters and on Netflix this month, starring Kiwi screenwriter Jane Campion. The power of the dog.

“Seeing my farm and my cows on the big screen will be my reward. Funny, I’ve called them all kinds over the years, but never movie stars, ”McKnight said.

With this year and last year both dominated by Covid-19 lockdowns and financial worries in the tourist and agricultural region, Campion can be considered a bit of a champion of the region, given the famous writer / producer hired local workers, extras and personal support throughout the production.

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Campion even shopped locally, using more than 150 McKnight cattle, a resident magpie, a Central Otago rabbit, and (spoiler alert) three local kittens who sat in a living room full of prostitutes.

There are Oscar whispers already for Campion and the show has the stars to take him there; Benedict Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemons, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Thomasin McKenzie and Peter Carroll.

But for Maniototo, the series is a vehicle to best present the vast and remote countryside of central Otago, and all because McKnight did not have time to decline the offer.

Fourth-generation sheep and cattle rancher Al McKnight has agreed that his Central Otago farm could be used for the filming of Jane Campion's new film.

Olivia Caldwell / Stuff

Fourth-generation sheep and cattle rancher Al McKnight has agreed that his Central Otago farm could be used for the filming of Jane Campion’s new film.

It was a busy Sunday morning at his farm in the middle of 2020, when a car pulled up to take in the scenery of McKnight’s 5,500 hectares.

“We were working in the sheep pens and a guy got out of a vehicle, crossed the road and introduced himself. He said they wanted to make a movie and really before I had a chance to say no my partner Philippa (Pope) said “yes we will”.

The largest farm has been named after the family since 1878, but after meeting Campion and signing the dotted line, the McKnights’ quiet but busy slice of paradise was about to change its pace.

“They built a three-story house. Our old sheep yard also had to disappear. They came to me and said to me “look, they are on the way, we will take them apart and we will build you a new set of sheep pens”. Brand new. I said, okay.

“They built a big western style cattle pen and a big barn, a nice big building. The size of the building made our hangars look like huts. It was truly extraordinary. Honestly, the place was unrecognizable.

The Campion team knocked down the farm fences “left, right and center” to make room for the project.

NETFLIX

Following screenings as part of this year’s New Zealand Film Festival, Jane Campion’s New Zealand set of The Power of the Dog is set to hit theaters on November 11, before making its Netflix debut on December 1.

McKnight admits that if he was going to be proud to see his brother Graeme and land him on the big screen, if he had known the extent of the work, he probably would have said no.

“I would never say never, it was a fun thing to be a part of, but you had to be careful who you did it with.” I just had to walk away and close my eyes. If it was closer to home I couldn’t have taken it, I don’t think so. There were literally hundreds of vehicles parked here.

“These few months have been crazy. I sometimes had to pinch myself.

Director Jane Campion poses with the Silver Lion for Best Director for "The power of the dog" at the Venice International Film Festival on September 11, 2021 in Venice, Italy.

Marc Piasecki / Getty Images

Director Jane Campion poses with the Silver Lion for Best Director for “The Power Of The Dog” at the Venice International Film Festival on September 11, 2021 in Venice, Italy.

The farm backs onto the Department of Conservation’s Oteake region, the Hawkdun Ranges. No wonder they wowed Campion, as the rolling hills extend all around the farm making it a beautiful western country setting. Here in Maniototo, you could be anywhere in the world.

“In the end, filming in New Zealand was not a compromise, it was the best choice for us,” said Campion.

“On the second day of sniffing around the South Island, which I know well, I was taken to a property near the Hawkdun Ranges area in central Otago. I fell in love with it. It’s so remote, and it’s 360 degrees empty with an incredible chain of hills behind it that felt very atmospheric.

As for McKnight, he never wanted to be anywhere else. In fact, when asked if he felt isolated, his smile said it all.

“I have lived here all my life and I love the place where I live. We are proud of what we have here and for them (Campion and co) to come here and say: “it’s a beautiful landscape, this is what we want, can we use it? It’s a good thing to be able to share.

“Agriculture is a hard graft, it’s a great reward.”

Filming of The Power of the Dog in central Otago.

Provided

Filming of The Power of the Dog in central Otago.

Production has been halted for some time due to Covid-19 restrictions. Campion said it helps creativity.

“I think the containment actually enriched our project. It gave us a rest, a chance to dive deeper into what we were doing and to have a little more perspective. I returned to the film a little more grateful for the opportunity. I felt everything and everyone was more precious.

Campion is said to take care of local affairs by ensuring that its cast and crew stay close by in Naseby and fully immerse themselves in local life during the three months of production, which spanned the entire island. from South.

During the 17 weeks of pre-production and 50 days of filming, hundreds of jobs were created and more than $ 2.4 million was injected into the country’s accommodation sector, including 1.5 million dollars. $ was spent in the South Island.

Local caterers were employed to cook 7,750 meals on the set each day, and the leftovers were sent to the neighboring pig farmer.

Naseby hotel owner Jan Rutherford.

Olivia Caldwell / Tips

Naseby hotel owner Jan Rutherford.

“It was huge for Central Otago,” McKnight said.

“When they wanted something to be done, they would ask us who would we use to do it, and they would use local talent for fencing and contracting. They used the same guy as me. It was really nice because it’s great to see this money being spent locally.

The owner of the Royal Hotel in Naseby, Jan Rutherford, said the cast and crew brought the quiet town of around 100 to life when it was most needed after a period of sleep.

“It was a real buzz. They were spread all over Maniototo and by the end we knew the names and faces of the crew. They are truly becoming a part of the city.

So much so that when Rutherford’s other hotel, The Ancient Briton, burned down one night, a crew member grabbed a garden hose and put out the fire on his bird aviary, saving his’ babies. “.

Naseby has become a kind of filming center, with scenes from Goodbye pork pie filmed there, and a Japanese movie called The promise.

“It’s a hidden gem actually, it looks very old fashioned, old buildings. It’s a small film center, ”said Rutherford. “You are proud of it. “

The Power of the Dog hits theaters on November 11 and Netflix on December 1.


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