Thursday, June 28, 2007

Michael King: A Moment in Time

I interviewed Michael King with Vanya Shaw in 1991 at the Writers Week in Dunedin. The interview was part of a series of interviews and documentation of this writers festival in Dunedin. It was shot by cameraman Rewa Harre and produced by Ana Foreman and Clare O'Leary. The film has been through a number of funding applications over the years and finally in 2007 sees the light of day through support from the International Film Festival and the NZ Film Commission with support from Executive Producer Glenis Giles. The film will be screened at the Mediaplex in Wellington on 26 July at 12.15 and 1.30. The film was edited by Simon Reece, The Dub Shop and a soundscape designed by Michelle Scullion with additional music by Michael O'Leary & Patsy Ryan and Blackthorn, Dunedin.
Other writers interviewed at the time include Hone Tuwhare, Elsie Locke, Gaylene Gordon, Patricia Grace, Bub Bridger, David Eggleton, Sandra Bell, Bronwen Bannister, Michael O'Leary and many others....this is part of an ongoing collection of NZ writers and artists...

A Class Act: Mervyn Thompson, his life & work

Mervyn Thompson grew up on the West Coast of the South Island. He spent his youth in a coal mine, like his father and grandfaterh before him. But he was a different lad to most of his peers - he joined the amateur theatre group in Reefton which introduced him to a whole new world and after working down the mines with his father for several years from the age of 16, he left the West Coast and headed for Christchurch and University. Thompson was a gregarious and sometimes difficult character. People seemed to either love him or hate him. Despite accusations in the eighties of 'rape' and lecherous behaviour to his English drama students, he was instrumental in bringing NZ stories to the stage, in particular working class stories. He was also the first playwright to acknowledge the story of the Suffrage Movement in NZ with his play, O Temperance. He died of cancer in the early nineties. This film includes an indepth interview with him the year before he died, with excerpts from his final autobiographical play, 'Passing Through'. Thompson remains a controversial figure in NZ's theatrical and artistic history, but also an important figure in creating a voice for working class stories and authentic NZ stories to reach local theatres across New Zealand.

Out the Black Window

In the late nineties Greg O'Brien curated a show at the City Gallery called 'Out the Black Window'. It was a collection of works by Ralph Hotere specifically about his collaboration with poets. Each painting illustrated work inspired by NZ poets, primarily Hone Tuwhare, Bill Manhire, Cilla McQueen and Ian Wedde. I filmed a reading by each of these poets and made a short film from a selection of works entitled 'The Sound of a Painting'. The title was inspired by Cilla McQueens poem, 'Synethesia'.
The full works filmed have still not been completed...another work in progress.

A Double Standard

In the mid-nineties I met up with Claire Turner, an amazing political activist, primarily in the area of HIV/AIDS community activism and she introduced me to Catherine Healy, the Director of the NZ Prostitutes Collective. We ended up working together on a documentary for TV3's Inside NZ Series about decriminalistion of prostitution - it was during a time when police woudl raid massage parlours, cops would act as clients and 'entrap women, (and male prostitutes), rent boys would be convicted of crimes set up by cops and there was a lot of harrassment taking place. The documentary exposed a lot of that through dramatic reconstruction but it also outlined the point of view, not only of sex workers in the industry, but also the perspectives of their clients - from street workers to escort girls to massage parlours...the variety of workers and their clients spanned race, class and gender..
TV3 after agreeing to screen the final cut - ended up cutting one and a half minutes as it went to air and I had a public argument with the then programme manager, Geoff Stevens who reacted to my complaintes of their 'online editing' by saying i would 'never work again in this industry'.
Well, it might have worked then - but I'm still here, making my films, researching and contributing to a sector that is ever changing.
At the same time, I worked with the NZ Prostitutes Collective to make a safe sex film for new workers. Entitled 'Sold on Safe Sex' it was rated R18 by the Video Censors of the time, but it has been a major training video for new sex workers in the NZ community ever since.
The local sex worker industry wrote the script, acted in it and presented the information. It was devised by a community of bisexual, transgendered, straight and gay sex workers and is still being used today.


In the late eighties I was still living in Western Australia and I got approached from some women who were working up in the Argyle Diamond Mines. This was run by BP a major mining company, and some of the local independent filmmakers in W.A. had knowledge of Aboriginal communities being moved off thier lands - or else the men of the community agreeing to sales and use of 'dreaming' sites that were actually sacred to women of the area. BP were adament they were working collaboratively with the local Aboriginal community and even employing many of them in the mine. Others were convinced that the mining companies were just exploiting the locals for the resource and that the local people had no idea how many millions of dollars they were giving away in their engagement with them. I went up there with a crew to document a kind of social experiment. BP had a new strategy led by an innovative thinker and strategist from Melbourne, Michael O'Leary (no relation) but he was convinced that by putting together a group of people from traditional mining knowledge and experience (25 % essentially hard core, usually macho miners who were not used to women workers) ,50 % of men who had had a variety of jobs (from cooks to bar managers to singers and farm hands etc.) and 25% of women - that a kind of social experiment could take place.
This film was the culmination of that hot pot - hard core miners and itinerant Australians looking for a quick buck meet hard core dykes in a remote countryside who wont take any crap from men... an interesting social experiment.
The film is a mixture of a training video meets EEO (Equal Employment Opportunity) in the outback of Northern Australian in 40 degrees in a high tech enviornment. The deal was , 14 days on, 14 days off. Nothing inbetween. A satellite city.
Interesting dynamics.
Groundwork dealt with sexual stereotypes in the workplace, new technology with women geologists leading the way, enviornment reconstruction led by Aboriginal managers and a community in conflict with the presence of the mine. Women not necessarily consulted...along the way. 1989. The Kimberleys. Australia.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Overlocked & Underpaid

I lived in Western Australia for several years - it's where i had my son Samuel and lived with his dad until i returned to NZ at the end of the 1990s. We had a home birth in White Gum Valley with friends from NZ and Australia.

I started filmmaking after studying computer programming (1986)! and realised that although I loved learning about computers and their potential, programming was not my forte, and that the creative bug was more in tune with my personality. I started working on other people's films, drama and documentary and started to learn the craft - on set. There was also an active women's community video group that I became involved in.

The Film & Television Institute was a fantastic local resource centre for independent filmmakers and documentary was a major focus. It was the hub of filmmaking in W.A. and still is. It provided courses on sound, lighting, directing and producing and would often bring filmmakers across from the East (Swinburne and AFTRS). Perth is a long way from everywhere and Fremantle where the FTI is, was really the artistic and creative centre.

Overlocked & Underpaid was my first prime time documentary. It came about through the FTI network and initially was going to be directed by feminist filmmaker, Martha Ansara. I was keen to work with her - but she decided to let it go and so I ended up directing it. It was a collaboration between the Clothing Trade Workers Union who funded local Mexican folkloric singer, Rita Menendez to travel around clothing factories doing lunch time concerts. At the same time we would interview women about their lives and film their working conditions. The guise of a concert allowed us into factories where union delegates had not been for years, so it worked perfectly. Migrant women were being exploited, some were starting their own businesses after years of working for others, and some conditions were so oppressive that women even had to ask permission to go to the toilet and the managers would hand out toilet paper. Demeaning and difficult for women whose gender roles were very differnet to western causalness. The film was part of a series for SBS-TV on different jobs and the collaboration betwen the Australian Council, the CTWU and SBS-TV was, at the time a first.

Rita was an amazing woman - she was a political exile from Mexico, having been involved in anti-fascist movements and the renaiisance of the Mexican Indian culture which her family was linked to. Another kiwi was on the film, Janis Tidmarsh (originally from Matamata) and in fact the whole crew were women - it was part of the idea that the migrant women would be more comfortable speaking to an all-women crew and it was true. Camerawomen Mandy and Jane, production manager, Claire Calzoni, sound recordist, Catherine Montigny. Janis was a poet and artist and she met Rita in the artistic community in Darwin where Rita was doing a concert and Janis travelled down to work with us on the film. We became close friends and continued to see each other over the years. She became an award winning sculptor and lived in Darwin until she was tragically killed in an accident in the Kimberleys in 2004. Rita continues to sing with her band in Western Australia and has been involved in many collaborative projects.

Raw Energy

My first film was an experimental film about my experiences in Europe after the Chernobyl nuclear accident. I was visiting a friend Gisella Schultz in Lausanne on the border of Germany and Switzerland when it happened. I was five months pregnant and became extremely ill. At first my partner and friend thought I was overreacting to the hysteria around the fall out, but in fact I ended up being admitted to hospital with a kidney infection and was there for several days. I was in a ward with a non-English speaking woman and had a doctor whose command of English was a one year sabbatical he had taken 12 years previously in America. So, you know, I had reason to freak out! Women who were pregnant were being told to have abortions and every scientist was on television giving conflicting advice to people. The markets were suddenly selling fresh produce from Chile, when the day before the signs had said 'local and organic'. People didn't know what to do and there was a rush to the supermarkets for packaged food. The organic farmers and alternative lifestylers were confronted by contaminated produce and the economy was in a state of shock. What made me most nervous was the fact that noone seemed to agree what people should do. Stay home, wipe your feet when you come in from outdoors - don't go out unless you really have to and so on. But really folks - noone really knows what to do in a nuclear disaster. Bear this in mind when you're considering the upcoming debate on nuclear energy in this country.