Ilena Shadbolt is a typical 16 year old.
She loves fashion, family and friends. However, Ilena also has an unexpected passion for creative arts and is already making her mark, having been nominated for a national award for best Solo/Duo Team at the 48 Hour Film Festival 2018 (having won the Wellington regional award for best female film-maker). You might not think it to look at her, but when you speak to her, it is clear that when Ilena Shadbolt sets her mind to something, nothing will stand in her way. And while it’s clear she’s keen to achieve, the way she does this is with calm focus and emersion, rather than for show. Ilena’s passion is real. Despite her achievements, this young woman is surprisingly humble and relaxed.
Over hot tea, we chat about all she has done in her life, up until her next big move: going to University.
“I was born in Ascot in the UK in 2001,” says Ilena. “My Dad works at Weta Digital as a visual effects supervisor and my Mum is my mum, and we all live in this house together,” she says to me on a windswept Wellington day at her home, perched on a hillside in Hataitai. Family is key to Ilena’s achievements - the family work collectively to support her.
While Ilena likes to think that she’s been creative since she was born, her big break in film and theatre came as playing Annie in the West-End musical that came to New Zealand a few years ago, with a line-up of Englands best actors and actresses.
Four years ago, at 12, she auditioned for the role of Annie when her teacher sent around an email that the producers were looking for New Zealand school girls to play the part. “The application period had closed, but my mum sent a photo and I still got a call. All the other kids could do back-flips across the room, and I couldn’t, but I somehow still got the part out of 500 kids!” Ilena explains. Ilena hadn’t had experience doing small school plays, so it was all in, all at once. “I loved being in such a massive production, flying up to Auckland and staying in hotels without having to pay” Ilena laughs. “While everything was positive about the experience, it was hard to act with the dog who played Sandy because I was scared of dogs at the time. We had to use another dog because the dog kept getting stage fright and vomiting off-stage. We ended up using the same dog in Wellington and Auckland. It kept licking my face when I sang ‘Tomorrow’” she explains.
Since then, Ilena has been performing in plays and films in Wellington, including one in a role at Bats Theatre and the film Tears of Valhalla, in which she played the female protagonist, for the Tropfest Film Festival. The film got to the finals of the festival in New Plymouth. “I still wasn’t doing drama at school so it was either all in or all out” Ilena explains. “I also played Ophelia in Shelia Winn Shakespeare which was good to do some more traditional theatre.”
Personally, Ilena has been working on a film ‘Inside the Cloud’ in which she plays a character Asha. The film incorporates aspects of Maori mythology.
FUSED - By Ilena Shadbolt
However, Ilena’s biggest recent achievement has been making her short film for the 48 Hour Film Festival. “This feels like it has been my first proper attempt at a short film” Ilena explains. Ilena's film made the initial shortlist for the Wellington finals winning her 'Outstanding Female Filmmaker' (supported by Women in Film and Television) and because she made the film above, 'FUSED', entirely on her own, it has been nominated for the national Best Solo/Duo team Film award: the winner will be announced on 14 July in Auckland.
Ilena has also been experimenting with music and performed in the Smoke-Free Rock-Quest this year. In her spare time, she runs to relax - but being Ilena Shadbolt, she can’t help but go well at it, competing at national events and representing Wellington. “Its a release for me because I don’t have to think. I think it helps so much in the most genuine way. If you really love running, it helps” Ilena says.
Ilena is fortunate enough to have her pick of places to consider studying, both in Wellington, Auckland and overseas. “There is so much I want to do when I finish school” Ilena reflects “It’s difficult to decide what to focus on. I’ve come to the conclusion I want to do something creative and film combines everything I love - film, music, art and drama. If I don’t do something creative, I won’t survive!”
To relax, Ilena and her family, a close-knit bunch, do movie nights together. Indeed, their TV screen is more of a movie screen. She’s also been reading, writing for herself and unwinding the only way she knows how - creating. “I’ve been enjoying Sylvia Plath,” she says. She also spends time with her friends, both in and outside of school. “I like meeting like-minded people outside of my daily routine, as well as school friends” Ilena explains.
So why Wellington? “I love the view from my house. I know pre-emptively I’ll one day miss it. I love the cafes, the people, the topography and meeting so many creatives. I also love that in Wellington every single house is different, and it’s near the sea. It becomes such a part of you that you just can’t imagine yourself without it!” As I listen to her musings, wise beyond her years - I can't help but wonder perhaps Ilena isn't that typical after all...