At home in the hills of Mt Pleasant, Christchurch, Hammond Peek draws the curtains, plonks himself down on his lazy boy, he kicks off his shoes and grabs the remote. It’s time to get to work. 

“Starting about November every year, I have screeners arrive, which are DVD copies of the films that are coming out, sent out by the studios to the Academy members for them to view.”

Hammond Peek is a member of the prestigious Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) which recognises excellence in cinematic achievements. This select group of 6000 members is made up of film makers; from actors and directors, to writers and makeup artists. While he’s since been joined by the likes of Taika Waititi and Cliff Curtis, Peek was the Academy’s first known Māori member. 

Peek’s mother was of Ngāi Tahu descent, with ties to Kaikōura and Kaiapoi. While it’s part of his identity he’s come to explore later in his life, Peek says his duel ancestry is part of what makes him, and New Zealand as a whole, so special.

“I really think in NZ we’ve got this lovely blend of the two cultures, the Pākehā culture and the Māori culture, and I think it’s great. We stand separate in the world from any other country in that beautiful blend.”

Becoming a member of the Academy is a lengthy process. Just winning an Oscar, which Peek has done twice for his work as a sound engineer on The Lord of The Rings: The Return of The King and King Kong, doesn’t guarantee you a membership.  You must be nominated and seconded by members, and gain a reference from someone of standing in the film industry. Once accepted, the work begins.

“There’s two rounds of voting.  I’m a member of the sound branch so I vote in three categories – Sound Mixing, Sound Editing, and Best Picture.  From that, they choose the actual nominees in 24 categories, usually five in each, which are released on the 23rd of January. In the second round of voting, we all vote in all 24 categories.”      

Academy members are reminded of the importance of their position and the trust placed in them. Indeed, as Peek gives me a demonstration of the screener for Dunkirk, the screen lights up blue with a warning to the “industry colleague” that any DVDs copied or sold can be traced back to them, with a reminder to snap the CD in half after use for good measure.  And with over 300 films released per year, not including foreign language and short films, Peek can be a harsh critic.

“When I’m watching the films, often my wife is with me, and we have a 10 minute rule. So basically, if it’s 10 minutes and neither of us like it, we turn it off.”

But that’s not to say he’s impossible to win over. In fact, a few of this year’s nominees have Peek quite excited.

“I think there's about five up for Best Picture - Dunkirk is one. I mean, that's a pretty awesome movie. There’s Darkest Hour with Garry Oldman delivering a fantastic version of Winston Churchill.  There's just a lot of movies that are really stand out movies so it's gonna be a hard one when I have to sit down and decide which one's my number one.”

Peek says he’s also excited about other Kiwis doing well in film, even if some don’t have the major studio backing to get to the awards.

“Hunt for The Wilderpeople – great little NZ flick! Absolutely loved it!  Taika’s a very special director. I saw Thor: Ragnarok and just laughed my way all through it.  In fact I nominated that for one of the sound categories. Didn’t make it through to the nominees this year, but I thought it was great.”  

The Academy Awards are set to take place on Monday evening local time, but Peek is keeping mum on his picks.

“I can’t tell you what I’m voting for and what I really liked this particular year. If I told you what I thought was gonna win, I'd have to shoot you!”

Well we’re just going to have to trust you, Mr Peek.

[Note: Interview took place in January]

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