Vincent Ward has won an international reputation as one of New Zealand's most original and visionary filmmakers. Vigil and The Navigator played in competition at the Cannes Film Festival (the first Kiwi films to do so). In Hollywood, Ward made Robin Williams afterlife drama What Dreams May Come. Urewera-set docu-drama Rain of the Children (2008) revisited characters from his 1980 doco In Spring One Plants Alone.
I want my films to be accessible, though I also want to do them on my own terms, and to be about my own concerns as a filmmaker.
This lauded documentary revisits the subject of a film Vincent Ward made in 1978, aged 21. That film, In Spring One Plants Alone, told the story of 80-year-old Puhi, who lived with her schizophrenic son in the isolated Urewera. The follow-up — part detective doco, part historical re-enactment — focuses on Puhi's life. She married the son of Māori prophet Rua Kenana, had 14 children, and after a run of tragedies, believed herself to be cursed. The excerpt goes “way out there in the bush” to the Maungapohatu community where Rua, “made the city of God on Earth”.
A young boy is afflicted by apocalyptic visions in medieval Cumbria. Believing he is divinely inspired to save his village from the Black Death, he persuades a group of men to follow him into a tunnel. They dig deep into the earth and emerge ... in Auckland, New Zealand, 1987. Following portents, the time travelers must negotiate the terrors of a strange new world, (motorways, nuclear submarines) — while seeking to save their own. Nominated for the Palme d'Or at Cannes, it scooped the gongs at the 1988 AFI and 1989 NZ Film & TV Awards.
Vincent Ward's fifth feature follows Irishwoman Sarah in 1860s New Zealand, as Māori tribes resist the occupation of their land by the British. Sarah has had an affair with a Māori and borne his child. Her lover dies, and seven years later the child is kidnapped by his grandfather, a powerful tribal leader. Sarah embarks on a search for her child, unsure whether he is alive. When she finds him, both mother and son must decide to which culture they belong. This excerpt from the notoriously ambitious film sees the duo trapped amidst a brutal trench battle.
Toss is an 11-year old girl living on a remote hill country farm. While out with her father herding sheep, he falls and is killed. Ethan, a bearded stranger appears, carrying his body, and plants himself on the farm. Toss fears he’s Lucifer and is confused when he and her mother become lovers. It is through Ethan, however, that Toss comes to terms with her father’s death and the first stirrings of womanhood. Vincent Ward’s debut feature was the first NZ film selected for competition at Cannes; LA Times’ critic Kevin Thomas lauded it as “a work of awesome beauty”.
Sons for the Return Home tells the story of a Romeo and Juliet romance between students Sione, a NZ-raised Samoan, and Sarah, a middle class palagi. Director Paul Maunder shifts between time and setting (London, Wellington, Samoa) in adapting Albert Wendt's landmark 1973 novel. Sons was the first feature film attentive to Samoan experience in NZ — alongside themes of identity, racism and social and sexual consciousness. In this excerpt Sione meets Sarah's parents, and his tin'a has him scrubbing their Newtown pavement prior to Sarah's reciprocal visit.
A State of Siege is the story of a retired art teacher dealing with isolation and loneliness, culminating in a stormy, terrifying night. Vincent Ward's acclaimed short — adapted from a Janet Frame novel — was made when he was at Ilam art school. The Evening Post called the taut tale "the most sensitive and intelligent film that has ever been made in New Zealand". San Francisco Chronicle praised: "Ward creates more horror in this low budget movie with his play of light and shadow than Stanley Kubrick was able to create in the whole of The Shining."
Loosely based on the case of a real-life computer dealer who acquired international bank records and later died mysteriously on Auckland Harbour Bridge, Spooked marked Geoff Murphy’s first local feature in 15 years (after a Hollywood foray). Everyman Kevin (Christopher Hobbs) is caught up in a barrage of intimidation after buying some used computer equipment and unwittingly receiving corporate secrets; Mort (Cliff Curtis) is the journalist investigating his case. The cast features rare cameos by director Vincent Ward and Goodbye Pork Pie star Kelly Johnson.
This report for TVNZ’s flagship 1980s arts show was made to tie in with Nicholas Reid’s book about the renaissance in NZ cinema that began with Sleeping Dogs in 1977. Reid and a who’s who of filmmakers discuss many of more than 50 films made in the previous decade (with Bruno Lawrence ever present) — and ponder the uniqueness (or otherwise) of NZ film. The industry’s fondness for rural and small town settings, and forceful (often conflicted) male leads is explored; and more neglected areas — Māori film making and more of a voice for women — are traversed.