TAKE (NZ Director’s Guild Magazine) July 2009
The new documentary on filmmaker Barry Barclay The Camera On The Shore is about to premiere at the NZ Film Festival. Waka Attewell, cinematographer on the film and fellow traveller with Barclay, reflects on the man, his filmmaking and that most difficult of all documentary subjects, the truth, with director Graeme Tuckett.
You only get a couple of moments that will determine the high points of your life – if you miss the moment then it’s gone – if you embrace it then the consequences can be gruelling. Ambition can be blind, so is justice and so is the obvious truth.
Not many people under a certain age will remember the work of filmmaker Barry Barclay – they might know that he made the world’s first Indigenous feature film Ngati – but they wouldn’t know anything about The Neglected Miracle or Autumn Fires – they might have heard something about a TV series on the plight of Maori in the 70s, then again they might remember Feathers of Peace as Baz opened the doors on the past atrocities and then slammed them into the face of Maori – but no one seemed to take his lead. He wasn’t an orthodox filmmaker by any stretch and his vision was always totally unique and special.
Barry Barclay – Libertine, Scoundrel, Poet, Philosopher – after his passing we fell into a time of generous memories and remembrance. After a few months the hard truth of the man again emerged, but he was still more than just the tangi we’d all been to, there was nothing final about it. He was still our friend, colleague – and well, let’s face it, a few other things – and of course we all had our own versions and stories, but this wasn’t helping Tuckett’s documentary find a conclusion or even a place to rest. The pressure was on. Baz was now deceased and the documentary had now become about something else…
I believe I’ve got the detail correct in that Graeme Tuckett was a barman when he first met filmmaker Barry Barclay, it would have been sometime in the early 1990s – Te Rua was the film in question, ‘not a happy project’. In those times Baz was a somewhat robust drinker whilst also being a robust chess playing-gardening-poet and, of course, a philosopher and leftie and, most definitely, an acute thinker of some enormity. You can actually see the deep thinking behind all of Barry’s work – filmmaking was Barry’s passion and life force and the truth of community and humanity embodied the engaging grasp of it all.
We called him Baz – he signed personally written notes as such. Sometimes so drunk he got publicly messy – it wasn’t one of the most endearing qualities or things you might make a documentary about, he used other people’s money and ideas whilst taking the high ground that a self-appointed Kaumatua might – but we’ll have to leave that to rest because it’s not something you mention when someone is now dead. Though we might now question the sense of entitlement – did he deserve it? Or did us devoted followers give him a leg up because we needed him to be more than who he was? During the recent lunch Tuckett says ‘It’s not the film of an icon but it took his tangi to realise this’.
Baz did play a beautifully thought out game of life and we were his some times eager and willing pawns. Us long-time friends simply refer to it as ‘the long game’ though we never really got on top of the whole purpose, but it didn’t matter. Just to be included in his ‘watching brief’ was what we demanded of him. We looked forward to those random notes from out of the blue.
GT and he became comfortable at each other’s table. Perfectly suited: GT refers to these times as ‘after the deluge’. I’m still not sure if it was meant as a term of affection or just a filmmaker’s observation: maybe they were drifters with like-purpose recognising each other amongst the immense clutter of it all? As the Maori greeting says ‘Tena koe’ – ‘I see you and recognise you’.
The first edit of the documentary was a glib travelogue-style take on his most complex life – it missed the man. If you’d ever worked with Baz it was always interesting in that ‘it’s not so much the destination but more the journey’ kind of way. Was he self-destructive? Was the drinking something to do with the earlier Catholic thing? He remarkably stopped the ‘over-indulgence’ and sorted himself out – an outstanding personal achievement. As a boy he was trained in the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience – two of the vows went south but Baz hung onto poverty.
Filmmaking to Baz was never a simple process but it was a matter of putting it all together simply – he showed us how to lead from behind – ‘don’t rush in with your fancy directing stuff and scare the horses’ – Baz always did the hard thinking before the camera came out of the box.
Global Indigenous issues were his focus. I saw Baz cry only once, it was in one of the last interviews. The emotion jumped on him – it was the memories of the sacrifice that had consumed the early commentators of radical Maori reform.
The new Maori renaissance, that he had been more than partly instrumental in creating – namely through the Tangata Whenua TV series and other political work – troubled him deeply. Baz was frustrated with the way ‘The Culture’ hid behind Kapa Haka competitions and the like – he openly hated the celebration of ‘The Warrior’ and how it avoided the real issues of ingrained colonialism. He hoped beyond hope that things could get to another place, beyond the images of the loveable ‘Auntie’ on the Marae – or the syndrome of WINZ dependency and other government agencies that suggested that everything would be put to right after the Waitangi tribunal stuff had been sorted. The might of the white still had too much to say about Maori affairs. It’s sad Baz missed seeing the Maori Party in government.
GT and Barry became the best of mates and moved comfortably beyond the chess to solve greater and more urgent tasks… around the table Plato, politics and religion got a hiding at the best of times. GT bought the new music around and Baz supplied the astute poetry – some of us had been expecting more from the poetry and were never disappointed – the swapping of more profound writing and more profound thinking via the e-mail came a little later and continued to the end. Baz tricked GT into become the poet’s night MC a ‘temporary’ one-night role he fulfilled for four years.
We’re coming up to release date of the film of Barry’s life The Camera On The Shore and I’ve heard the odd astonished gasp as more established Directors have suggested that they might have been in the running to have achieved this documentary… my answer to this is ‘you didn’t ask’.
In GT I saw constant evidence of a deeper understanding while in our travels as we set out to make The Camera on the Shore – a mate making a documentary about a mate – you might think it a perfect situation… though it wasn’t without its own set of problems and struggles. ‘To do the man justice’ constantly ate away at his liver as he weighed up the detail and the ever evolving truth of it all… and it wasn’t the simple matter of Pakeha funding or Maori TV. What would Baz think of the whole process? ‘As the director was he in control of me?’ asked Tuckett. It was more about what to leave out.
Some filmmaking can be merely about ego – doing the important work is more about listening and moving with the shifts – GT became a listener as the deeper ‘shifts’ and purpose occurred. It also can be very lonely which was something that Baz already knew and GT quickly found out.
The editing of the material continued to be a struggle and at this stage we weren’t to know that we’d had just shot the last interviews with Barry. Only a fool would think such a task would be easy and it would be easy to treat GT, an able and sensitive film grip who’s become an able and sensitive director, as a fool… a few have, but quickly realise their mistake. But then, as Tuckett said, ‘I was suffering from this nagging self-doubt that was crippling me – was Baz only allowing a mere glimmer into the truth?’ Annie Collins became available and she and GT started again from scratch.
But what if he hadn’t died while we were making this documentary? Would we be now embroiled in a Barclay shit fight? Sign off of the final edit? Possibly it could have been a blend of self-righteous nonsense and a man wanting that history should see it different. Again the ‘long game’. We’ll never know, but it would have been interesting to say the least.
A few of us were working in the background to refocus the editing process when Barry died. Shock, disbelief… it was only after he was gone that a lot of us realised the quiet and assured guidance and grounded thought he had bought to our lives. An extraordinary man who, despite his many human frailties, mirroring our own, we loved and continue to love.
Tuckett refers to the inner sanctum of Baz’s tangi when he saw the man being taken off the pedestal and placed in the real reference of the pain he had caused combined with the laughter and anger and especially the love he had created in his life. GT says, ‘It gave me the strength to find the movie that I had been avoiding’.
GT came up with the perfect line that sums up the documentary when he said that, ‘Barry not so much made the Tangata Whenua series but the Tangata Whenua series certainly made him’ – it sounds like a logline and Baz would have cringed… and then smiled… and then looked away. He would have laughed in that self-effacing way and been quietly flattered.
Baz. A rascal-cheating-lying son-of-a-bitch. We loved him for it all and miss him. I’d always seen something vulnerable about him and I always wanted to protect him; it was like his skin wasn’t as thick as he made out – though he gave as good as he was given when it came to both the Maori and Pakeha critics. The documentary is about a life – his life, it says so on the poster.
There are two versions to Barry’s life and both of them are true.
Baz was no saint, in fact sometimes he behaved down right badly, yet if anyone of us Disciples had been ask to vote for a Saint we would have willingly ticked the box – witness to miracles? – damn right; they say it’s part of the criteria – yep I certainly saw my fair share while in the presence of Barry Barclay and the ones I missed I can still find on the big screen and TV and in those books he wrote – his last major work, Mana Tuturu, is genius.