Vale my beautiful friend, mentor and peer Bill Gosden. On our last day out together in Venice, August 2019, we attended the magnificent Sean Scully show at the Abbey of San Giorgio Maggiore, appropriately titled ‘Human’ (of which dear Bill was the very best kind). When we said goodbye — an incredibly difficult parting — we knew it was likely to be the last of many wonderful adventures together. I will forever be grateful that I had the opportunity to pay tribute to Bill — and his impact on my life — out loud and in his presence. Below is the speech that I made at his retirement dinner and it feels appropriate to reprise it here.
My sincere condolences to his family, friends and our many mutual colleagues, as well as enormous gratitude to his beloved friends who cared for him in these last, difficult months.
Tribute to Bill, NZIFF Retirement Dinner, 29 March 2019:
Tonight I honour my dear friend Bill Gosden who handed in his keys today, retiring after 40 years at the New Zealand International Film Festival, most of them at the helm.
I consider myself to be an alumna of the school of Bill Gosden. Bill opened many doors for me, generous actions that will always be part of our story, the story of a friendship that started before we met each other. Bill advocated my writing to someone who was angry about something I’d written. To their credit (and also only after they gave me a dressing down in my favourite restaurant of the time), that person went on to give me a job that elevated my career. Bill had intervened, without knowing me, and created an amazing opportunity.
It was Bill who introduced me to colleagues at New York, Rotterdam and Toronto film festivals. He made the world of film programming seem like a very real option to a bolshy and opinionated young woman from small-town Australia. In observing Bill at work in that international context, I learned the importance of wit, charm and intelligence in building and sustaining great networks. I also learned the value of fierce, quiet determination in negotiating with sales and distribution companies, exhibitors, producers and partners of all kinds. (Though I must admit, I never quite mastered ‘quiet’!).
We have had many adventures Bill and I, those New York opening night parties at Tavern on the Green (meeting Lauren Bacall, dancing with Björk); watching films together at festivals around the world; recommending films to each other for selection in our respective programmes; and as two non-drivers, a rather wonderful planes, trains, ferries and mail bus navigation of New Zealand’s South Island on a holiday itinerary partially devised by the über Dame Gaylene Preston.
I also had the privilege of seeing Bill — the showman — in action at festivals in Wellington and Auckland. Bill in his element introducing glorious new restorations with meticulously performed live scores; indulging Florian Habicht on his impulse to ride a mountain bike down the SkyCity Theatre stairs (though even tonight Bill swears he never knew that was going to happen); sneaking me on stage for a personal introduction to the appliqué flamingos on the curtains at The Civic in Auckland. Whatever it was, all the detail of film festival life was embraced with warmth, insight and more than occasionally, a spicy or scathingly funny observation.
At this time of communal grieving in New Zealand [15 March 2019], Bill’s beloved country has also set the global bar in its powerful expression of acceptance, diversity and inclusion. It is in that frame that I reflect on my friend Bill’s civic commitment to standing up for all those values, as both a cultural leader and a wonderful human being.
Love, respect, gratitude and admiration to you Billy G.