Rory McKenzie

Story by Ruby Abraham

Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, 2018

A Passion for Language

After discovering his enthusiasm for languages in high school—where he studied French from year nine through to his first year at university in 2012—Rory McKenzie has continued to fuel this passion at Victoria University, and has had the opportunity to participate in a number of exciting creative projects.

Graduating with a Bachelor of Arts majoring in Italian and Linguistics in 2015, Rory has since continued to study at postgraduate level, completing his Honours and Master’s in Literary Translation and is now a PhD candidate in Literary Translation Studies in the School of Languages and Cultures. Rory’s research interests lie in the field of audio-visual translation and have specific ties to subtitling and dubbing of Italian comedy films.

In addition to working as a PhD candidate, Rory is an assistant at the Language Learning Centre, a tutor for the Italian programme, and runs the Victoria University of Wellington Applied Translation Service (VUWATS).

The Art of Subtitling: The Dark Horse

In 2015, as part of Victoria’s Summer Scholarship Programme, Rory was given the opportunity to write Italian subtitles for New Zealand film, The Dark Horse.

Starring Kiwi actors Cliff Curtis and James Rolleston, The Dark Horse was directed by James Napier Robertson and tells the unique, true story about the life of Genesis Potini, a little known New Zealand hero and chess champion.

Rory wrote under the supervision of senior lecturer, Dr Marco Sonzogni, and was assisted by PhD student Francesca Benocci. Even with this support, writing the subtitles for this film resulted in hundreds of hours of research and careful translation.

In the case of subtitling for The Dark Horse, Rory’s challenge was to maintain and convey te reo Māori and the personality of distinctive New Zealand English throughout the film, which can be a tricky aspect to manage when translating into other languages.

Rory explains, “subtitling is not a duplication of the original dialogue. The title itself for example has several layers of meaning that cannot always be conveyed in another language and culture”.


The Victoria University of Wellington Applied Translation Services (VUWATS) is a resource, based within the School of Languages and Cultures, that offers a translation service within and outside the University.

The School of Languages and Cultures at Victoria and Viclink have worked collaboratively, and since investing in professional subtitling software, VUWATS has had the opportunity to translate a variety of media for a number of different clients.

Rory, who was given the opportunity to help trial and establish this service, discusses in a recent article what VUWATS can do for the University.

“Our goals are three-fold, first, we want to help Victoria promote the University to international audiences that might otherwise be inaccessible—we think it’s a sustainable option for the University to invest in an internal translation service, rather than an external one.”

“Second, we want to provide Victoria’s students with an opportunity to gain practical translation experience that could help them get work as translators when they finish their studies.”

“Third, we’d like to offer our services outside of the University, so that we can be completely self-sustaining—and be able to fund our pro-bono projects as well.”

PhD Prospects

Rory’s journey through the School of Languages and Cultures at Victoria has been an exciting one. His interests are aligned within his PhD research, with the main research focus centred on the challenges of translating humour in an audio-visual translation (AVT) context.

The translation of humour into other languages can be a difficult process, however Rory is looking to work through the challenges by focusing on a case study involving two Italian comedy films between 1975 and 1999 that star the Italian comedic figure, Fantozzi.

The disciplines of subtitling and dubbing within AVT have unique challenges that are made even more difficult when it comes to the translation of humour. Rory is focusing on both existing literature surrounding the translation of humour in AVT, and the formation of new techniques. His ultimate goal is to preserve both the comedic and cultural elements of Fantozzi in both its subtitled and dubbed versions.

  • <p>Rory McKenzie with movie <em>The Dark Horse, </em>courtesy of Image Services, Victoria University of Wellington, 2015. </p>

The School of Languages and Cultures

School of Languages and Cultures, Kelburn, Wellington 6012, New Zealand