Monday, October 06, 2008

Watching is Work

Just recently, I've been spending a lot of time watching plays (I often do) and films (which is less common, at least for work - but fun!). It does count as work, because the plays I have to see to keep up with the art-form and the actors, and the films are possible inclusions in Origins. On Thursday, I was at the Centre for New Zealand Studies at Birkbeck, where I watched no fewer than nine films in a day - admittedly only two of them features. One of these was the wonderful The Waimate Conspiracy - which manages to turn Maori land claims into a comedy, without being remotely patronising (the opposite, in fact). What makes the film really satisfying is its exploration of different forms of truth and proof. The court refuses to accept that the oral traditions through which Maori tell and preserve their history count as "proof" or "evidence", so they are forced into "forgery", which bizarrely and wonderfully turns out to be more "acceptable" than their own reality... This is ideal dramatic material, of course, and the conceit of shooting it all as if it were documentary adds to the sense of a film exploring different levels of fiction, reality and performance, with clear political implications.

The same evening (you see, it really is hard work...) I'm at the Oval House, to see a new play called Yours Abundantly, From Zimbabwe. It's by Gillian Plowman, and seems in many ways to be autobiographical: like the leading character, Gillian has exchanged letters with young people and teachers from Zimbabwe. I find many of the moral dilemmas around disparities in wealth and our perceptions of one another very familiar, and very frankly portrayed. It's wonderfully designed by my friend Iona McLeish, who manages to use the entire space with a single rake - back-lit and smokey it gives a space of imagination for the Zimbabwean characters, avoiding the representational, which allows the play to be much more clearly about the written words and the imaginative engagement with Africa that comes from it. It's a very beautiful, economical, lyrical production.

And now I'm off to the Australian High Commission for a reception for Bangarra Dance. It actually is work, you know.....

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