– By Alex Porter (SANTK Preservation Archivist)
Whilst my colleagues hustled Christchurch crowds on April 14th to get their smart phone pics of the Royals in Latimer Square, I hit the arterial route to meet Vincent Ward for morning tea at Canterbury Uni. On first sight I found immediate empathy for the man who appeared a sort of overall dark and silver grey wrapped in woolly scarf and was most gratefully introduced to our Film School saviour trying to brush my insomnia, hormones and bad hair aside. Guests included Professor Simpson – Head of the School of Fine Arts in Ward’s day – whose eloquence and forthright engagement Ward acknowledged and still rather endearingly preceded him, and Morris Askew – essentially founder and Head of Film School during Ward’s years at university and to whom he showed great respect, not to mention an array of lecturers, students, heads and bods from the Christchurch gallery (and archive) collective.
Post-quake Canterbury University has had to make some acute structural changes as they attempt to meet the expectations of the counting house. Ward’s welcome and reciprocal speech certainly served well to reframe and project a positive light on changing times. Ward applauded the University’s new umbrella, titled The School of Humanities and Creative Arts, a flagship for The School of Fine Arts, Music, Film Theory and Cultural Studies departments and a creative compilation that actively reflects current industry and enterprise, anchoring students in the real world. From where I was sitting Ward expressed a genuine enthusiasm to engage his skills, industry links and international connections in efforts to raise the university’s profile and in turn, student numbers.
To mark his Honorary Doctorate in Fine Arts Ward gave a lecture titled “My Father’s Hands” later that evening, which was received with appropriate excitement and matched enthusiasm from a well attended audience. Beginning the talk with a wonderful black and white photograph and “That’s me and my dad” Ward explained how he used to constantly draw his father’s scarred, burnt hands – which were part of a major injury inflicted during his service in Syria during WWII. Ward told his father’s life story, a compelling and sad narrative of unrealised aspirations, a story he embodied in these scarred hands. Ward drew an analogy between them and the farm’s terrain, the isolated, burnt and roughed hilly landscape that was made beautiful through sheer sweat, grit and determination. Selected photographs, film stills, pre-production drawings and gallery installation documentation prompted discussion on fate, moments and cinematic motif, production tales and artistic insight into his multi-disciplinary work to date.
He talked about his Film School films, how he came to make A State of Siege (1978). This film was shot on 16mm colour with friend and now successful (Australian based) producer Timothy White. The short, based on Janet Frame’s novel from 1966, was a perfect match for his dark, depressive psyche at the time. A fly on the wall documentary (also 16mm colour), In Spring One Plants Alone (1980), followed the lives of an 80 year old Tūhoe mother and her 40 year old son in the Ureweras, a film he revisited later in making of Rain of the Children (2007). He confirmed both these early films were in the running for digital preservation along with Vigil (1984) and The Navigator: A Medieval Odyssey (1988) later this year, thanks to generous financial assistance from The New Zealand Film Commission and moral support from The University of Canterbury.
In the years following these internationally award-winning shorts Ward’s feature films include: (Story) Alien 3 (1992), (Story/Dir.) Map of the Human Heart (1993), (Dir.) What Dreams May Come (1998), (Story/Dir.) The River Queen (2005) and (Wri./Dir) Rain of the Children (2007). Continuing with familiar themes around human vulnerability and our nature as animals Ward shifted from cinema-theatre into cinema-gallery at the invitation of the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, New Plymouth, where his first solo show “The Fleeting Intensity of Life” comprised of new media works, photographs, drawings and video installations extending into five gallery spaces. He reconfigured and reinvented the exhibition for a further eight shows, including Auckland’s Gus Fisher Gallery and the Shanghai Biennale, China. Ward finished with images of recent paintings, cinematic sized canvases at 12m x 3.5m, clearly drawing together the integral, isolated, rural terrain of his childhood and ongoing fascination with his father’s hands. “What we do is not a given,” he said, “if we’re lucky it’s a calling and at best it is a gift that we’re sometimes given but is easily taken away in a flash.”
A Q & A session followed in which Ward received great compliments from the Christchurch Wizard (another bold creative spirit following his aspirations though mysteriously plain clothed that night) saying, “I’ve been very inspired by your films, I think you’re the most extraordinary filmmaker in the world at the moment in my opinion, I think you’re a bit of a shaman you see, I don’t think you’re a normal human being at all, something in you is producing these astonishing acts of the imagination…”.
Nice one Wizard. Well done Ward.