The Iconic Festival that Slowly Withered Away

The MOTHRAs were a way to celebrate Scarfie filmmaking, and usually featured a wide variety of submissions ranging from wacky and weird to funny but sincere. It was sort of like the Oscars, except it was probably much less grand.

The Mothra is a fictional Japanese monster. It sometimes aligns itself with Godzilla, but the two are usually entangled in combat due to their fluctuating hatred of human beings and each another. According to its Wikipedia entry, the Mothra would attack by shooting silk at its enemies and using its mandibles at close quarters. It had a habit of biting its opponents’ tails, although such a tactic is “rarely effective and, predictably, is usually self-defeating.” Predictable, indeed.

So why are you reading this poor attempt at chronicling the life and times of a Japanese super-monster? If you are into Japanese sci-fi, there are about 16 films that feature the Mothra. One Mothra-themed film in particular killed a director’s career, and served as the inspiration for OUSA’s student film competition, perhaps setting the tone for pioneering Otago filmmakers.

MOTHRA entries had to be no longer than seven minutes and have at least one OUSA member taking part in the “team.” Racism, homophobia and sexism were banned, and anything else that common sense would suggest. Competitors could borrow filming equipment from OUSA, so there were very few barriers to entry. In recent years, the most active competitors were groups from Student Life (but there were no Passion of the Christ films made, don’t worry).

In the 2011 MOTHRAs, about 40 different films were nominated in 26 prize categories. These included the usual film festival prizes, but also more niche awards such as Best Death, Best Turkey and Best Credits. The awards ceremony was held at the Otago Museum, and the films were screened over a number of days at The Church Cinema on Dundas Street.

However, all this fanfare seemed to weigh the competition down in its later years. A source close to the MOTHRAs’ organisers believes that the rising cost of processing the footage, staging the awards and screening the films coincided with a decline in the number of entries. The attractiveness of other competitions such as 48HOURS also led to the MOTHRAs being dominated by entries designed for these more constrained formats, and therefore perhaps of a lower quality.

The YouTube channel “Mothras” ( features the pick of the MOTHRAs from 2010. They are worth a watch, especially the music video (and winner of Best MOTHRA) “Daisychain” for the band Knives at Noon. Described as “100 per cent Dunedin,” it went on to feature on Juice TV and C4. It’s a great song and the video is a nice montage of Dunedin flats and streets. Also check out “Scott and Mark Go to the Park.” It’s kind of like Tim and Eric but on steroids, and the closest you will get to a Scarfie romcom – of sorts.

Also worthy of mention is “Do You Wanna Go Out With Me?”, a musical set in the romantic North East Valley. It is accessible via the 48HOURS website, as it was runner-up in the Otago and NZ sections in 2011. However, the film is also symptomatic of an issue that plagued the MOTHRAs – many of the people involved with the film apparently did not know that it had been entered in the MOTHRAs, nor that it won Best Film. The MOTHRAs’ awkward timing meant the competition was often overshadowed by 48HOURS.

The MOTHRAs were a cultural phenomenon that gave Dunedin student filmmakers, actors, directors and musicians a platform to have their work publicised and appreciated. If OUSA Education Officer Jordan Taylor’s comeback bid is successful, I am sure the abundance of comedic and filmmaking talent at this university will make it worthwhile. However, it should perhaps be staged earlier in the year than 48HOURS to avoid being swallowed up by its larger counterpart. So be prepared in case the silk strings and poisonous scales of the Mothra reappear, because it will be an interesting time.
This article first appeared in Issue 17, 2013.
Posted 4:45pm Sunday 28th July 2013 by Tim Lindsay.