A Very Nice Honeymoon
A Very Nice Honeymoon is a beautifully crafted 2D and 3D animated film about Jeff and Phill Simmond’s great grandparents Mariano and Elizabeth Vella who were on the steamer SS Wairarapa when it was wrecked on the coast of Great Barrier Island, New Zealand, in 1893.
When Jeff and Phill Simmonds embarked on making A Very Nice Honeymoon they didn’t know that separate audio recordings of their maternal great grandmother Elizabeth Vella and her daughter Metty Vella talking about the SS Wairarapa disaster existed.
They found Metty’s audio in the Porirua Museum and Elizabeth’s audio was discovered in the family archive. It had long been forgotten and thought of little consequence. “It was remarkable,” says Jeff. “We had already received funding to make the film, and finding the audio was icing on the cake. And considering ‘documation’ is our stock-in-trade, we were overjoyed.”
(Documation is a word invented by the brothers to describe their brand of animation. They take audio of people’s real-life stories and animate them.)
In making A Very Nice Honeymoon the brothers wanted to explore how stories are passed down. “Every generation has a different take on their forebears,” says Phill. “And even within the same generation, some people know more others. But, as they say, the past is another country. What we are really interested in is unscripted storytelling.”
Phill says one of the most rewarding aspects of making A Very Nice Honeymoon was animating his great grandmother. “My mother did the modelling for her, because she knew Elizabeth’s mannerisms,” he says. “I found that very emotional. Visiting the shipwreck site in Great Barrier Island I also found emotional. It made me think of what Mariano went through. He lost his first wife and then nearly lost his second.”
Mariano’s first wife died not long after her fourth child was born. Mariano, originally from Dalmatia, was a sailor when he arrived in New Zealand. He went on to farm Mana Island (nearWellington) and after his first wife died, a fellow Dalmatian gave him Elizabeth’s address in Dalmatia. Mariano went back to Dalmatia to woo her, and according to Phill and Jeff’s mother Frances, when they meet, they fell “instantly in love”.
Mariano continued to farm Mana Island after he married Elizabeth. They had four children. Elizabeth died in 1960, the year Phill was born. She was the last living survivor of the shipwreck. Phill and Jeff have dedicated A Very Nice Honeymoon to Mariano and Elizabeth’s greatgrandsons, Brian Randall and Michael McClean, who passed away while the film was being made.