A Moment in Time is nearly forty minutes of an archival armchair interview with author and historian Michael King OBE (1945-2004). It was filmed in 1991 (shot by Rewa Harre, directed by Clare O'Leary), at Dunedin's Writer's Week.
This chapterised (by anachronistic silent film titles) interview shows the drive and passion of Michael, and his deep commitment to exploring and understanding Aotearoa-New Zealand, as a historian, biographer and essayist.
A Moment in Time is a source of inspiration and provocation to read all of King's work. Michael talks about some of the 40 books that he wrote, co-wrote and edited. He discusses early books (Te Puea, Whina, The Moriori) that brought him into close contact with Māori and other groups, and of the inevitable controversy created by a Pākehā writer documenting Māori subjects and dealing with issues of particular importance to Māori.He also speaks of his time as a script writer (with Barry Barclay) for John O'Shea's seminal Tangata Whenua documentary series.
King was a great communicator and it is surprising that his skills were not utilized more for broadcast television. Perhaps he was too outspoken about the media, condemning the "white middle-aged men" running television and print media (this was prior to Māori Television's arrival).
He fought to tell stories of Māori women, "it seemed to me ... there was a much greater need to write about the women than the men because people outside Māoridom had no notion of how influential these people were." A lack of interest from broadcasters has meant this material, recorded in 1991, languished unseen until the 2007 Telecom International Film Festival.
It is a cruel irony that demand for the interview material was perhaps provoked not just by the unprecedented popular success of King's The Penguin History of New Zealand (which has sold over a staggering 220,000 thousand copies and invigorated a generation of New Zealanders to explore their history) but by his accidental death in 2004.
The interview was initially intended to be part of a larger documentary on King and before his death plans were made for a follow-up interview. The accident robbed Aotearoa-New Zealand of one of our greatest interpreters and advocates. Michael's life, like A Moment in Time, was all too brief. Even in conversational mode as he is here, the loss of loss of King's voice in the ongoing dialogues around race, culture and identity in this country is palpably felt.
"We've got to be able to trace our own footsteps and listen to our own voices or we'll cease to be New Zealanders, or being New Zealanders will cease to have any meaning."