English born and trained, Rick Spurway co-edited legendary 70s series Tangata Whenua during a life-changing four year stint down under. Later a number of Kiwi film talents (including Spurway’s Pacific Films colleague Barry Barclay) spent time in his London cutting rooms. Having directed and edited many documentaries through his UK production company Spurfilm, Spurway is now producing doco projects in Transylvania.
I learned a deep respect for the Māori people and their culture, and discovered a profound spiritual awareness of the natural world around me. I have never forgotten these lessons wherever I am working on this planet - especially among ethnic minorities. Rick Spurway, on working in New Zealand
This film contrasts impressions of two places over the course of a day: Mana Island and Wellington city. Two young climbers (a teacher and a gardener) row out to the island while the sun rises and the city wakes up. Over smokes and beer, the men discuss why they climb. Evocative shots of their rockface ascent are paralleled with shots of city bustle: traffic, Radio Windy DJs and new high rises. The genre of dramatised documentary was relatively new when cinematographer Waka Attewell made this film — his directorial debut. It was mainly shot over two weekends in 1973.
This 1976 documentary examines India’s third Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi. Her father took office as Prime Minister in 1947, the day India became independent from Britain. Framed around an extended interview with Gandhi, reporter Dairne Shanahan explores India and Indira’s history, and her controversial ‘emergency’ governing of the democracy’s 600 million people. The documentary was directed by Barry Barclay. As this article explains, Shanahan hoped it would be the pilot for a series, but it was never made. In October 1984 Gandhi was assassinated by two of her bodyguards.
Before turning to directing, Barry Barclay did more than five years training to become a priest. That experience surely percolates through his film Ashes, with its reflections on identity, spirituality and living (or feeling) apart from others. The film centres on the thoughts of four people: an artist, a woman struggling with her identity as a high achiever, an actor, and a priest. Are all of them acting, or only Sam Neill? The film features readings from Ash Wednesday, the poem written by TS Eliot after converting to anglicanism. Ashes screened on NZ television on 17 March 1975.
The Hum is about sailing legend Geoff Stagg, and his yacht Whispers. Directed by Tony Williams and written by Martyn Sanderson, the doco is a paean to the lure of sailing, focusing on Stagg’s colourful personality, and his veteran ocean-racing crew, as they take on the Wellington to Kapiti Island and down to the Sounds race. Fortunately for the film they deliver on reputation. Dolphins, Strait squalls, streaking, ciggies, and some fierce 70s moustaches are all in a weekend’s sailing. Stagg would go on to head renowned Farr Yacht Design (now Stagg Yachts).
Tangata Whenua was a groundbreaking six-part documentary series that screened (remarkably in primetime) in 1974. Each episode chronicled a different iwi and included interviews by historian Michael King with kaumātua. These remain a priceless historical record. The Feltex Award-winning script was by King and director Barry Barclay. The NZBC said the series had "possibly done more towards helping the European understand the Māori people, their traditions and way of life, than anything else previously shown on television". Paul Diamond writes about Tangata Whenua here.