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Barry Barclay: an appreciation

By Cinema, NZ, TV and Wellington

Documentary filmmaker, and Dom-Post movie reviewer, Graeme Tuckett kindly gave me permission to post this lovely appreciation of Barry Barclay:

Tangata Whenua director Barry Barclay during the filming of The Neglected Miracle in 1985Its been a couple of days now since the phone rang, and I heard from his sister Pauline that Barry Barclay had died. Barry was — and remains — an absolute giant in New Zealand and the World’s film communities. He is widely and famously regarded as the first member of an Indigenous nation to direct a feature film, and often held up in New Zealand as being possibly our greatest and most influential documentary maker. But I think its important to remember now that Barry’s more celebrated achievements -Ngati, The Tangata Whenua series, The Feathers of Peace- were founded on the back of a long and compassionate journey of discovery of self, of others and a rigorous, vigorous, disarmingly playful and punishingly sharp mind. “Barry is a thinker” was one deceptively obvious little nugget that cropped up during an interview in Auckland a few months ago. Obvious on the face of it; but how many people can we really apply the epithet to? Barry was capable — and though he would never mention it, he had both the training and the firepower- of great and original philosophical thought. Get yourself a copy of Mana Tuturu- I’m sure Unity books will have them in a window display by now, even if Whitcoulls can not bring themselves to stock it — and read the opening chapters. Marvel and laugh as Barry affectionately and accurately accuses Captain Cook of ‘home invasion’- and then goes on to convincingly and elegantly prove beyond any talkback hosts wildest polemic exactly why ‘country’ and ‘nation’ are two very different concepts. All of that in the opening pages, and there’s still 300 to go…Enjoy. Or make the pilgrimage to the film archive’s basement, and treat yourself to a viewing of Barry’s early and wildly experimental doco’s Ashes, Autumn Fires, or The Town That Lost a Miracle. They are still head and shoulders above most of the publically funded obviousness that gets passed off as documentary today, and so far beyond the grasp of anything our current crop of ‘providers and funders’ would ever contemplate as to beggar belief. Not just records of another time; these films roll out like broadcasts from another planet: A place where ‘pitching contests’ and ‘expected outcomes’ would be classed as criminal activities. Barry made films from the position that the filmmaker was absolute; that everything was in the service of the film, and that the film (and its makers) served only truth. His approach to documentary especially was completely uncompromising, but somehow still malleable, adaptable, chaotic, and funny as all hell. His shoots were characterised by great humour and a constant sense of winging it with the best of them- but the results were searingly intelligent, provocative, idiosyncratic and timeless. I never actually heard Bazz say ‘Damn the Torpedoes’ — though I know he loved the sentiment — but I certainly heard him mutter ‘bugger the producer/broadcaster/funder a few times.

Barry BarclayIn his last couple of years, Bazz was hitting his straps with a gentle fury that probably looked like fun to the uninitiated. He was mightily enthused by the possibilities of cheap digital cameras and editing systems, and by the knowledge that soon the filmmakers would have everything they needed to make a feature or a documentary right in their own — or their communities- hands. He had a dream of a camera, an edit suite, and a broadband connection available to every marae, and a central server- administered from the NZ Film Archive- that could collate and store every second of footage that came down the pipe. I don’t doubt for a moment that, granted another year or two of life, Bazz would have made it happen. Will one of us pick up that load now?

Over the last few days- and I guess a few more times in the days ahead, you’ll hear and read a bunch of tributes that will invariably begin ‘Barry Barclay, the director of the film Ngati…” Well yes, Ngati is a staggering and gorgeous achievement (Hell, Bazz dieing might even spur the NZFC into finally making it available on DVD…) But right now, maybe its time to acknowledge some of the man’s work that might be about to vanish into the basements and memories of the many of us that he made friends of. I was a barman when I first met him, I saw the tail end of the deluge, and I’ve heard something of the damage and grief that a man of Bazz’s size can cause when he’s blundering in the fog. But for me its the jokes, the games of chess, the (ginger) beers, the sly charm, the righteous anger and the perfectly uncontradicted Marxism and spirituality that seemed to me to inform every word he spoke and frame he composed. They say ‑well, someone does- that the best way to mourn a man is to carry on his work. It’ll take all of us and then some to do a half of what Bazz might have done. But that’s no reason not to try.

Tama Poata, John O’Shea, Wi Kuki Kaa, Michael King and now Barry. There is a clearing where a forest once stood.

Graeme has just completed a documentary about Barry for Maori TV.

A Wireless Love Affair

By Personal and Wellington

Howard Hesseman is Johnny Fever in WKRP in CincinattiWhen I was sixteen or so, I was called in to the Careers’ Teacher’s office (next door to the woodwork room) for my one and only “careers” meeting. Mr Farquhar reminisced briefly about a couple of former pupils who were good enough to represent Essex at cricket and Arsenal at football, as if he had anything to do with either achievement.

He asked me what I wanted to do. “I want to be a disc jockey on the radio, sir,” I said. “You want what?” he replied. “I want to be a disc jockey on the radio. I already volunteer at the Newham General hospital radio station. And that was how Mike Read started. Lots of people who are on the radio started that way, sir.”

Slightly bemused, he said “Wouldn’t you be better off trying something a little more … realistic?” I told him I’d pretty well thought it all out and I knew how I could go about it. At the time I was devouring books on radio and even reading Billboard to try and find out more about the business I wanted to be in. “WKRP in Cincinatti” didn’t screen in England but if it did I would have been video-ing it every week and playing it back frame by frame.

Look, you seem like quite a bright young lad,” said Mr Farquhar. “Take these pamphlets away with you and have a look at them. They’re for a Management Trainee Scheme at London Transport and it obviously won’t suit everyone here but you could do a lot worse.” I said “thank you” and walked out and that was the extent of my vocational guidance at school.

Two years later I was in New Zealand, broadcasting several times a week from the Kelburn studios of Radio Active. Three years after that I was working for ZMFM on Victoria Street, pulling the midnight till dawn shift five nights a week. I was a professional DJ on the radio, just as I said I would be. But after that, radio and I parted company (commercial radio, repetitive promotions and mindless playlists will do that to you) and I was spending more of my time hanging out with actors, writers and directors rather than alone in a room with a pile of records.

I’ve always wanted to go back to it, and I’ve always believed that it was the one thing I could safely say I was really good at. But I wanted to do it on my terms, for fun. I got the chance tonight thanks to VBC who have offered a weekly Monday night slot to the Wellingtonista and my name popped up on the roster. If you were listening, I apologise for my only passing acquaintance with the English language (there was a lot going on) but I hope you enjoyed the music.

My attempt at recording the stream failed, which is a blessing in disguise, but I have added the playlist here so you know what you missed.

I’m hooked on radio again. I want to build a studio here in the home office and make radio for people and thanks to the Internet and podcasts (and inspired by the likes of Jesse Thorn at The Sound of Young America) it may actually be possible. In the meantime, I’ll crop up on the Wellingtonista show every now and then, slowly getting used to the slightly eccentric VBC technology, getting my fix.

Playlist after the jump.

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A few thoughts about the Oscar Noms

By Cinema and Wellington

Firstly big ups to Mike Hopkins of Wellington for another Sound Dept. nomination, this time for Transformers. Mike already has two Oscars for LOTR: The Two Towers and for King Kong.

When I said in my end of year round-up that 2007 had not been a good year for “great” films I had an inkling that there were a few goodies waiting to come down the pipe. Of the Best Picture contenders, only Atonement had been released in New Zealand at time of writing. All the others are due out during the next four weeks. Juno (a surprise Best Picture nom) sneaks this weekend; Michael Clayton and No Country for Old Men open with it next week and There Will Be Blood is down for 14 Feb.

There are plenty of others coming in the next few weeks: In The Valley of Elah (Tommy Lee Jones, Best Actor); Gone Baby Gone (Amy Ryan, Best Supporting Actress); The Diving Bell and The Butterfly (Julian Schnabel, Best Director) are all likely to be worth the wait.

Interestingly, there are a few films nominated that don’t have NZ release dates at present: The Savages (Laura Linney, Best Actress); Persepolis (Animated Feature); none of the documentaries (apart from Sicko) and none of the Foreign Language features.

At GreenCine Ronald Bergen summarises all the films that were in the frame for Foreign Language Feature and picks out those that were overlooked.

At Time, Richard Corliss notes that all of the Best Picture nominees were made for less than US$30m and four of the five were from the “Indie” subsidiaries of the majors (i.e. made independently and picked up at market or developed independently and funded by a major).

The full list of noms can be found at

Avatar Push Back

By Cinema and Wellington

Avatar teaser posterAccording to The Hollywood Reporter, 20th Century Fox have pushed back the proposed release date for James Cameron’s Avatar from Memorial Day 2009 (which is June 22) to December 18 2009. That’s a six month delay. Fox are giving availability of 3D screens and extra time for Weta to do a bang-up job on the techy stuff as the reason for the delay.

But the fact that the live-action shoot in Wellington is proving to be a challenge with 18 hour days being the norm plus Cameron’s history of going over schedule and over budget on Titanic – it won’t have anything to do with that at all. I have one staff member who was booked for three days work as a featured extra and that call has turned into 15 days, and may still go longer.

Black Magic has more on the Avatar shoot including some behind-the-scenes material.