Archive for September, 2010

“Scenes from the Aro Valley, Paramount, April 20-23 2006”-

Posted in Uncategorized on September 23, 2010 by uncontrollabledancing

These are the original liner notes for the 2006 “mini retrospective of the Aro Valley DV film movement 1999-2006” curated and written by myself… The first time we the filmmakers referred to the existence of the group that could be seen as including our work. I’m putting it up as a time capsule in a way – there are many ironies and misapprehensions involved, but it has a historical meaning I’d like to have noted, preserved.

Scenes from the Aro Valley

A Mini retrospective of the Aro Valley DV film movement 1999-2006


2000, Directed by Colin Hodson

“Shifter’s life is a mess. His flatmates play “horrible un-music” and drink all the milk. He can’t talk to his ex without arguing. He can’t get his answerphone messages. His new flat is a tip, and he’s having nightmares about killer rabbits – but it gets worse…”

– Gordon Productions original description.

“As the events accrue, and our eponymous, engaging and elusive lead lives several days in his ordinary/ extraordinary life, one’s initial listlessness gives way to a perverse fascination – as the slightest event, be it an odd dream or the spilling of a cup of coffee, takes on epic proportions. What emerges is an endless loop of unlocatable anxiety, as Shifter’s interactions with his ex-girlfriend, new neighbour and a girl he tried to picks up in a bar, all fail to explain his ontological discomfort; his quest, in this way, becomes universal. A self-contained slice of in medias res existence, Shifter captures the spaces in between with unpolished exactitude.

Wholly improvised over several days and produced for a grand total of $110.00, Shifter is the closest that film gets to real life, and shows that the alienated cinema of the Pacific Rim stretches as far south as New Zealand.”

– (Mark Peranson) Vancouver Film Festival 2002

Shifter was a strange film to make. It was really cheap and weirdly ad hoc and its one of my favourites of the Aro Valley films. I shot it, except for the scenes I’m in, and Diane McAllen recorded the sound, except for the scenes she’s in. She’s in a lot of scenes – Whitey, the character she plays was supposed to by played by Richard Whyte who couldn’t make it – so for those scenes I was walking around the house holding the camera in one hand and the boom in the other.

After his disturbingly convincing turns at emotional evasion in this and Uncomfortable Comfortable before, Colin was starting to get people not really wanting to talk to him so much any more. We got this a lot with these films – some of these performances were sufficiently good that people didn’t really want to believe that a bunch of unauthorised filmmakers with no money could have acheived them, so they tended to assume the actors were just playing themselves. (CW)

Preceded by


2005, Andy Chappell

A very different version on a similar theme to Shifter from Andy Chappell, and a clear inheritor of some similar perspectives to the “Aro Valley Movement”. Always very strongly visually motivated, Andy is finishing his second short slowly now, a sci-fi film featuring Rob Jerram from Little Bits of Light, with a shaved head for the role. (CW)


2003, Elric Kane and Alexander Greenhough

“Life in a Mt Victoria flat is observed with sly wit by Elric Kane and Alexander Greenhough in their second no-budget digital feature” – Bill Gosden, NZ Film Festival.

“If for nothing else, this film is recommended purely for being made by two former Victoria University film students, who are showing the rest of us wannabe filmmakers how to make compelling and interesting films without any money.

There is also the fact that it is set in Wellington, and unlike some other films that use cities as a form of name-dropping, the city becomes an integral part in the alienation and darkness of the film. For example who’d have thought the Overbridge could be made into a sinister and cold place?

The film can also be recommended because it’s set in a Mt Victoria flat with characters and situations that most students and most other people can relate to.

However, it is also recommended simply because it is a really good film.”

-Branavan Gnanalingam, Salient

I’d helped out (at times negligibly) with Alex and Elric’s first feature, I Think I’m Going, and soon after it was finished, they launched straight into Murmurs. Apparently they were wanting to sneakily make another film to surprise us all with. These boys often have real issues with screening their work, fine though it is, and I’m still kinda surprised that they were both keen on screening it here. Murmurs is thematically very close to Shifter, and in filmmaking style and personal philosophy a complete opposite. Please note that neither of these films are relationship movies – something else the Aro Valley filmmakers have always been accused of making.

Look out for a steely cameo by George Rose, who’s really the original independent no-budget Aro Valley fimmaker since the 70s when his radical first film Artman first raised socio-political hackles that none of the current generation have had the balls to try and interface. Also note the no-budget-est spin on that “de Niro in Raging Bull ridiculous weight gain” thing, in the otherwise svelte Kristin Smith’s pretty stellar inhabiting of the decidedly un-svelte Amy. (CW)

Preceded by

Experimental Shorts

2001-2004 directed by Richard Whyte

Featuring 5 films: BROOKLYN, Lightbulb, EARth, Lunar, Storm

Five experimental shorts in about 7 minutes by Richard Whyte, among other things a ghost in the margins of almost all the Aro Valley films, and possibly the least known and most active filmmaker involved with the movement. Still lives in the Valley too, unlike the rest of us; next door to the flat Shifter moves into. (CW)

Little Bits of Light

2005, Campbell Walker

“Intimate and acutely observant filmmaking with real emotional power, Campbell Walker’s digital feature bears witness to a young couple’s struggle to survive one partner’s crushing bout of depression. Alex and Helen are taking a winter break in a rambling old house in the Taranaki countryside… Nia Robin elucidates Helen’s anguish and her arresting off-kilter liveliness with unstinting clarity. Happiness is as sharply evoked in the film as the opposite and Alex and Helen charm each other – and us – with some of the knowing playfulness of a French new wave couple.

In this, as in her distress, Robin has her match in Rob Jerram, who plays Alex without a hint of self-serving nobility. Screen acting of such a high order might almost be considered the purpose of Walker’s filmmaking. It’s as if we are watching the private struggle of two people, played out in real time, but sharpened into dramatic focus and suffused with the filmmaker’s love, wonder and dismay”

-Bill Gosden, NZ Film Festival

Little Bits of Light is the most expensive of the Aro Valley films to date, and was filmed in the Taranaki, which’s not really in the Aro Valley.

It’s based roughly on my relationship with with co-writer Grace C. Russell and the improvised into new life with the actors. A glib but sadly rather accurate description of how this film’s affected Grace’s and my life would be to say that, to a large extent making the film helped cure her depression… and gave it to me instead.

We spent an alarmingly intense month in the country, drinking lots and getting beaten around by the subject matter. All the rest of the cast and crew tend to look at me as if I’m crazy when I say I had a great time, but making the film has semi-ruined the idea of going back to making films with no money at all. In the kind of low budget but determined film-making that we’re playing at at this festival, money doesn’t buy you glossy costumes or distracting effects. It buys you time to get things right, time to work with the crew and the actors, time to remove distractions, time to do things again when they’re not right. Having this time is very addictive after you’ve learnt the proper appreciation for what it means; which is learnt by doing it when you don’t have time or money.

All four of the feature film directors represented here are moving into the slightly more arrested, less independent stage of finding that the projects they want to make need more time, and wondering where the hell they can find the money to buy the time with. So this maybe means the “Aro Valley DV movement” is finished. But then again with newer film makers like Andy Chappell moving inexorably towards long-form work, maybe it just means it’ll be taken over by different people. (CW)

preceded by


2002, Diane McAllen

A short animated doco, about what happens when your partner leaves you for someone else. Diane, as among other things the producer/ co-producer of Uncomfortable Comfortable, Shifter, Off and Why Can’t I Stop This Uncontrollable Dancing and one third of the Gordon Productions collective that made these 3 films, was one of the most key people in the early days of the movement. I was the partner that left. (CW)


Also on Saturday night after the screening of Little Bits of Light will be a party to celebrate or bemoan the leaving town of director Campbell Walker and co-writer Grace C. Russell who are moving to Auckland. Actually its also their varioys birthdays, as well as the birthdays of Murmurs directors Alex and Elric too. Please come if you would like to, starts at 10, 10.30. There will be no Q&A after the Saturday night screening but some provision will hopefully be made for those attempting to transition from Little Bits of Light to a party mode that is admittedly somewhat at odds with the film.

Scenes from The Aro Valley was curated and disorganised by Campbell Walker and then hopefully resolved or rescued by Mhairead Connor, Elric Kane, Grace C. Russell and Colin Hodson. The slightly odd program notes were written by Campbell Walker unless otherwise attributed. Thanks to Kate Larkindale and the Paramount, and all the fimmakers involved. In a wider sense, thanks to Bill Gosden and the New Zealand Film Festival for the kind of ongoing support that, among other things, means we have a (sometimes contentious) movement to group our films under.


Since The Accident

Posted in "other", News on September 1, 2010 by uncontrollabledancing

More changes in film funding in New Zealand, more marginalisation of different kinds of work – The Creative New Zealand Independent Filmmakers Fund, an obviously ignominious failure, dying after 2 rounds when the Film Commission decided it could better contribute to screen culture by not funding films engaged in anything beyond the most mainstream of notions… Fair play to them, I guess, they’ve never made particularly engaged or credible claims to care about things outside their narrow range.

Of course it does mean access to funding “experimental” film has pretty much now rolled into a bigger pool with the news that next year the IFF will be replaced by a broader “Media Arts” category… Very ominous news to lose a separate film fund that is engaged with work of substance and quality.

But we don’t really have a film culture in New Zealand beyond the efforts of a few heroic individuals – people like Martin Rumsby, Lawrence McDonald and Mark Williams come to mind in ways that, say, Auckland’s MIC doesn’t. We do have a few filmmakers who battle on to find and raise their own voices despite the culture of mediocrity and concensus – we just lost one who died at her peak in Kathy Dudding, both a filmmaking comrade and a rare active enthusiast for other people’s work. But for all of us involved in non-industrial filmmaking, the roads are just getting harder and harder.

But hey, on the other hand, I just came out of a big black hole… I am now formally stating that I am Not Depressed Any More after being pretty much missing in action, findable in the bar,  for the last three years after failure to deal with destroying my marriage. I am now ready to Return To Work, even if work isn’t ready for me – if the above didn’t cue you in, I am among the unfunded by the IFF and finally ready to talk about it without getting pissed of.

This was a bit unfortunate, I decided – I had an application in for a film I think I’m now really ready to make, and make how it should be made. I’m going to post the Treatment and Director’s Notes here, and I’m interested in responses anyone has – but I also think I need to find ways to make it, so if anybody has any constructive suggestions or interest in assisting let me know either here or via email uncontrollabledancing  @gmail.

I’ve been working on this for a while – yeah, its a personal project but no its not my life before you ask… It’s ready to get started on. The way I work means intense bursts of activity, especially with the actors, and a certain lack of filmmaking apparatus. I’m going to be hating asking people to work on it for no money when its such an intense – even destructive – project that requires commitments of time and emotion, and that will leave all involved shattered by the end – but ask I will, and can promise actors especially that working on it will be (a) unlike any film they will make with anyone else, especially not in New Zealand, and (b) Almost certainly the best acting they will ever get to do… If they can find a way to give full commitment.

Who else is involved? There are people who are keen, but they may not be able to do it for the money I can track down. At this stage its just me… and I can make a devastating film with this material with a few actors and a crew of 1, though I’d kinda prefer not to. But any resources I can muster will be put towards intensifying the characters, enhancing the ability of the actors to be where they need to be, not in making it more palatable for casual viewers… It’s not that hard to find the shots and sound recording you need if you get that right…

Here’s the treatment, and the Director’s notes:

Since The Accident – Treatment


Its just at the end of the relationship – that moment where everything is poised before both Jasmine and Stirling take their last plunge into agreeing that it’s over. They think hard, they look at each with a tired respect, they’re going to do it properly, with love and respect and care…

“Are we finished?”

“Yes we are”

They hold each other for a moment, strong, secure and resolved and then the movie starts and we get to watch it all fall over, violently and messily.


Stirling comes up to the door. He knocks, waits a moment, then lets himself in with the key from a boot.

There’s a couple of boxes in the lounge, he picks them up and carries them through to by the door. He goes into the kitchen, looks in a high cupboard. There’s a whisky bottle there. He pours himself a glass, goes through into the lounge, starts flicking through the records. He spots one a little way in, grunts unappreciatively, puts it on the turntable, where it plays quietly. As it plays, he keeps flicking through. Sporadically he’ll pull out another one, forming a small pile. He goes over to the CDs on a shelf and does the same, taking small sips of whisky as he does so. He goes into the bedroom, looking in the wardrobe, the bookshelves as he goes. The house is messy, not dirty, but things are not put away very well. He goes into the bathroom, the kitchen, picking up the odd little thing, forming a little pile with the records in front of the stereo.

Later he picks up the phone – the landline – and calls a number.


We cut to Jasmine. She’s walking down a corridor in a large, anonymous building, with a guy, Matt, when her phone rings. She looks at the front of it, and is surprised by what she sees – “Hang on a minute” – and she ducks through a glass door, answering it. An initially tentative greeting is followed by a small explosion: “What the the fuck are you doing? Its not your house any more!”

It’s Stirling, of course, taken aback.

“What do you think I’m doing? I’m collecting my stuff? It’s not my fault you’re not here.”

“How did you get in?”

“The key, in the boot, of course”

“Well, get your boxes and get out again, would you”

Full of self-righteousness, she paces quickly away from the bemused Matt, round the corner, down the steps, walking furiously, loudly as she talks.

Stirling seems to want to talk about which records he wants today, but she’s pretty clear that now’s not the time. He’s chatty but feeding off her aggression, wants to know what the rush is.

“Are you out with someone?” he asks, teasing her when she denies it. She loses her temper, hangs up on him, turns her phone off afterwards, then realises she has no idea where in the building she is, or where this guy Matt might be. She wanders, lost, turning corners blindly until she comes to an exit, then walks out onto the street, looking up at a large apartment building towering over her, sits, waits.

Eventually a concerned looking Matt comes out, and they go in.


Inside Matt’s house – He’s older than her, and seems nice enough, but the conversation isn’t really flowing, and she’s still embarrassed about getting lost in his building. Eventually she kind of throws herself on him awkwardly. He seems happy enough about this, but it’s hardly an edifying encounter – she can’t really deal with it when he kisses her or touches her, lies there awkwardly when he tries to go down on her, but won’t acknowledge that there’s anything wrong. It’s like she shouldn’t be allowed to have a good time, so she won’t.


Eventually she goes home. The boxes are gone, and so is Stirling’s pile of records. She sits on her bed hugging herself. She didn’t think it would be this hard, but whatever punishment is in store she’s up for it. She probably deserves it, she thinks.


Stirling is staying at his parent’s house, but they don’t seem to live there at the moment. At the moment he’s in their big, tastefully appointed master bedroom. He’s put away all the things in there that look like they might belong to an older couple, so it looks a bit like a hotel, anonymous. He’s going to be using it as his seduction room, and he’s got Lydia in there with him now.

She’s a young, normal woman, blond, professional, well turned out, drunk. Stirling is a bit drunk too. He’s currently fucking her from behind. He isn’t showing a lot of affection, keeping her at some distance as he fucks her. When he’s about to come, he pulls out and does it into the sheets as she collapses face forward onto the bed. There’s not a lot of eye contact going on.


A few minutes later Stirling is in the bathroom, angsting out a little. He’s staring at himself in the mirror, not really in a narcissistic sort of way. As we watch, he starts to move his head back and forth towards the mirror, getting closer and closer to it with each swing until he starts to bang his forehead against the mirror, gently, but with an implied promise of force to come.

The door opens behind him, and Lydia wanders in naked, and goes over to the toilet, sits down, has a piss.

“You look drunk”, she says to him, currently resting his head still against the mirror.

She finishes, washes her hands. As she dries them, she scrutinises him a little.

“Are you ok?”

We look closely at Stirling’s face up against the mirror. He’s not moving now, eyes shut, thinking hard. After a long pause he speaks, quietly, deliberately.

“No, I’m not alright, I’m not alright, I think I need help. Will you help me Lydia?”

He turns to her. She’s long gone.

He sways a bit, laughs in self-disgust, breathes a sigh.


Stirling looks round the door into his parent’s bedroom. Lydia has gone to sleep in there. He walks down the hall to his small childhood bedroom, still with its small single bed, childhood accoutrements, and goes to sleep in his own bed.


It’s the next morning, and Lydia is waking Stirling up with a cup of coffee. She’s talking freely.

“I wondered where you’d gone – this room is cool, who usually lives here? I thought I’d make some coffee for us, but I gotta run, gotta get home and get my work clothes on or I’ll be late….”

He blurrily sits up as she continues. She looks clean, made up, fully in organised morning mode. He’s a little repulsed by this vision of young health. She gives him a quick kiss on the cheek as she leaves. She firmly but gently says “Thanks for having me, but I don’t know that we need to exchange numbers or anything, do we?”


Jasmine is sitting on the floor in her bedroom, just at the point of giving up on the comprehensive re-organisation it needs to become properly hers. She’s surrounded by posters, books not on their shelves, cupboards in search of new corners, but she’s had enough of trying to claim back the flat. It’s time to go out again.


Stirling is sitting on the little single bed in his bedroom, although he too looks to be in transitory mode – there’s an open clothes bag sitting on the floor. He’s taking refuge in old pleasures of home, reading an old adventure story from his childhood, smoking a cigarette carefully out the window like a teenager.


A barman is leaning over a groggy Jasmine curled up in the corner of an empty bar. He’s telling her she can’t sleep here, she’ll have to leave.


Jasmine is walking the streets. It’s late, they’re deserted and she’s thoroughly momentum free, shakily and haphazardly putting one foot in front of another.


Now it’s getting towards dawn, and she’s sitting hunched up in the corner of a bus shelter. A young guy on his way home. James, comes up to her, shakes her a little

“Are you alright?”

She latches onto him as the final saviour for a wasted night.


She’s gone home with him, and now she’s awake, still drunk, quite manic. She tries to do a little dance for him, starts to take off her clothes. He is excited, but wants to talk, so he sits her down, makes her a cup of tea, makes her laugh and relax a little. She tells him a little about what’s been happening, and looks glad of someone to talk to about it.

As she starts to approach a quieter level of equilibrium, he reaches in to kiss her. She responds quietly but with warmth. When he excuses himself to go to the bathroom, she makes a joke about not wanting him to leave, smiles at him again, gets a small kiss as reward then does a runner as soon as his back is turned.


Jasmine is getting ready to go out for another evening. She’s dressed up, trying to look just a little tarty, and has her hair done. She’s in the bathroom putting on her make up carefully, controlling exactly how she looks. She sits on the toilet, and pulls down her skirt, worries away at a red, sore ingrown hair with tweezers, then gives up, slathering it with makeup concealer. It doesn’t help much.


Stirling is also preparing himself. He takes a lot of time and care over it too, ironing, moisturising, shaving. He jerks off for a while, not to come but to get himself a bit revved up for going out. He dresses carefully in his going out clothes, before heading out.


Stirling is talking to Katja, an old friend of his from years ago. He’s telling her about the break-up, and she’s making the kind of supportive noises you expect of your friends, especially the ones about how awful Jasmine is and how angry and worried Katja feels on his behalf. He’s friendlier and warmer than we’re used to seeing him, and opens up moderately – though we can still sense wariness. Katja is obviously fairly keen on him


Later they’re in bed. They’ve obviously just fucked, and Stirling is looking restless and distant like he usually does when expected to show some kind of affection. Katja is trying to kiss him, snuggle up to him, and he’s trying to quietly get her to settle for sitting still.

She’s concerned – “What’s the matter?”

He denies anything is wrong, wriggling further along towards the edge of the bed.

She persists – did she do something wrong, is he upset abut something?

Eventually, under duress, he admits he maybe feels like he shouldn’t have done that, he doesn’t feel very proud of it, that he should have held back… It was nice and everything, but…

She looks levelly at him, at his earnest expression.

“Oh god,” she says. “You thought you were giving me the pity fuck.”


Jasmine is at home, putting books back onto the bookshelf. It’s the last part of reorganising her bedroom. She takes her time ordering them. They don’t take up more than two thirds of the shelf, so she turns some around so they’re facing out. She stand up and looks around – the job is done. She looks pleased for a moment, and then it drifts off her face.


That night, Jasmine is standing at a bar, vaguely watching a band carry their gear off when Stirling comes up behind her. They’re pleased, and not awfully surprised to see each other. Stirling goes to hug her, and she pulls away, but says she’s pleased to see him anyway.

A little later, they’re standing together, watching the main band playing. They look like a couple, really, although there’s a weird tentativeness at times.


Its pretty late by the time they both get back to Jasmine’s house, and they’re both pretty drunk. We’re seeing a different side to them here – they’re affectionate, relaxed, obviously taking pleasure talking to each other, being with each other.

The bottle of whisky Stirling was drinking earlier in the film comes out, and they put on a record and curl up on the couch. They talk a little now about which records they each want to get from when they were together, and they talk about the band tonight, and when they last saw them –

“Do you remember, we were doing a really drunken kinda waltz up the front?”, she says

“Ah, vaguely. I seem to recall them being quite surprised about it. They probably don’t get a lot of waltzing at their shows”

“No there was none tonight”

Later she says

“I should have expected you’d be there – but if I’d known, I might not have gone”

“Really? You trying to avoid me?”

“Of course I am, its easier that way”

“Oh. Ok.”

He’s a little nonplussed.

“No. Its ok, I’m glad to see you after all. I think I must be missing you a bit.”

It’s almost as if its Christmas in the trenches and a truce has been called between them – they toast each other, dance to old records, talk about past times. good and bad. For a while they’re having what seems to be a pretty good time between two people who know each other really well – better than anyone else – and who’ve both been starved of someone to have a good time with.

But, it slowly slips in that the converse is true as well – they are both fully aware of each other’s weaknesses, and by no means incapable of exploiting them. As they get closer physically, they start to increasingly dig at each other in the way that only a couple who’ve lived together for ages can.

“Hey, stop grabbing at me -”

“You used to like it”

“No, I just used to like being wanted. Maybe I’ve grown out of it now. Maybe you were just never very good at it”


Soon after they’re fucking, but not well. Their bodies don’t seem to fit together any more, and Jasmine starts to withdraw from responding.

Feeling this, eventually Stirling loses his hard-on. He sits on the edge of the bed, and they both look away, feeling the weight of recent events.

He reaches out to her, trying to recapture the warmth and affection of earlier in the evening. He wants to stay, not for sex, just for closeness. He tries to lie next to her and hold her, but she pulls away, turns around towards the wall.

“Just go away,” she says. “Leave me alone”

“But I miss you, and you miss me too – what’s wrong with just holding you? Please?”

He tries to hold her from behind. She pushes his hands away and they struggle a little.

“I don’t want to”

“But why not?”

“Because you make me feel sick. Because I don’t want you to touch me”

He pauses, shaken, and lies still, next to her, not quite touching, almost winded. There’s a lengthy silence, then he sighs and gets up. He puts on his clothes without saying anything else, then stands up and stares at her. She’s staring fiercely away from him at the wall, curled up tightly. We hear him walk down the hall. She doesn’t move until she hears the door shut, when she finally relaxes her body – she was scared, but she coped with it.

She realises she’s shivering. She gets up and goes into the bathroom, feeling ill. After kneeling over the toilet bowl for what seems like a silent eternity, she sits back up.


Stirling is wrapped up in the duvet at his house, in front of the TV, eating instant noodles. He’s expressionlessly watching the sex ads they play after normal programmes have finished. He looks exhausted, completely emptied out.


In the late afternoon, Jasmine is walking home from her office job. She runs into Betty, a cool girl she knows a little and likes a lot. They get to talking about gigs and people and clothes.


Jasmine ends up at Betty’s house to drink tea and listen to music. They sit in Betty’s room and try out her clothes and make up. Jasmine is initially a little shy and wary, but she soon relaxes and starts to have fun. For the first time we see her trying to make a friend – she’s been so alienated from everybody, between being with Stirling and then being without him, she’s forgotten the simple pleasures of making a new friend.

Only she’s going about it in an odd way. She’s talking freely and happily to Betty about her life – but from what we can tell, she’s mostly lying about it, tentatively at first, and then more brazenly. She’s having a fine time, much more relaxed than we usually see her – it’s just pretty much all fictional.


Across town, Stirling is in someone’s bedroom with some girl at some party. They’re both drunk and aggressive, wrestling with each other and their clothes, enjoying pushing each other around and being pushed back. He pushes her face first against the wall; she pushes him back onto the bed and sits astride him. He pushes her off again, and reaches for his jacket. He takes out a cigarette, lights it, and puts it in her mouth, telling her to smoke it while he fucks her. When she refuses and stubs out the cigarette, he tells her to turn around. She laughs at him and complies, and they start fucking vigourously.

The door opens and a man comes into the room. It’s his room, and he’s surprised to find people in there, although he initially seems more upset that they’ve been smoking in there. When he tells them to leave, Stirling loses his temper and jumps the guy, knocking him off balance. He sits on top of him and slams his head into the floor. The girl attempts to stop him, and he elbows her away, then looks up, leaps up and runs out.


A little way down the road, he’s walking hard, breathing heavy, somewhat shocked and manic, He just wants to get home and under cover before he does anything else that bad.


Jasmine is at a different party. It’s really late and the party is running down. She’s leaning drunkenly over a cute boy, Logan. She feels pleased with herself – he’s a good 4am score, and a couple of slumped girls look grumpy as they leave.


Back at her house, she pulls him into the bedroom and onto the bed. He lies down across from her and pulls up her shirt, blowing raspberries on her stomach. She puts on a CD and goes to the bathroom. While she’s gone, Logan looks around the room. He goes through the drawers and the CDs.

When she comes back, they snuggle back down onto the bed. He gets up to take off his clothes at the foot of the bed, making a little show of it. She’s amused. He comes back up to try and take off her clothes, but she wants him to slow down, and to kiss him.

When he has taken her clothes off, she slides down to go down on him. He sits watching her. After a couple of minutes he stops her and takes out a condom – “Are we going to do this?” She teases him a bit; she’s enjoying herself, then puts on the condom. They have good, fun missionary position sex.

Afterwards, Jasmine is tired and is falling asleep very quickly. He keeps talking to her for a while before he realises she’s gone to sleep. She looks relaxed.


It’s the early evening. Stirling is moving through his place, collecting up the dishes he’s left in various rooms, and taking them to the kitchen. Some of them have been there a few days. A little later he’s washing them. He’s a meticulous, patient dishwasher, and he spins the task out as long as he can. Its almost as if he doesn’t have anything better to do.


Meanwhile, Jasmine is sitting in her lounge, going through her clothes, sorting through them, putting them into two piles. When she’s done, she picks up the bigger pile, and takes them back into her room and dumps them on the bed. She takes the smaller pile, puts them into a plastic bag, and puts them next to three boxes piled in the hall by the door. She’s working with a quiet but sustained energy.


It’s late again. Stirling is back at his place with Rebecca. She’s older than most of his “conquests”, with an air of authority, and she’s tougher and more sarcastic. She derides his attempts at small talk.

A little later, she’s undressing him. She expresses some disdain for how skinny he is, which disturbs him slightly. She undoes his jeans to go down on him anyway, but he stops her – he’s feeling a bit uncomfortable, and he’d rather be fucking her. But even that’s not much good, and as they fuck he finds himself losing his erection.

He starts to panic a bit – Rebecca tells him to keep going, but it isn’t working. He stops and rolls off her, sitting up against the wall, apologising. She’s furious, and when he asks for her help she refuses it. He begs her to help him – he really needs to get off now – but she’s just angrier and more disgusted. She leaves, slamming the door behind her.

After Rebecca leaves, Stirling gets up and dresses.


He walks the streets for a long time. He strides slowly but purposefully down the road towards an unspecified destination.


We see Jasmine walking around the supermarket. She has 3 bottles of wine and nothing else in the carrier. She looks vaguely at colourful items on the shelf before moving on.


It’s much later. Stirling is standing outside Jasmine’s house, staring up at it. The curtains are drawn, it looks pretty dark. He smokes a cigarette fretfully, then walks up the path towards it.


A minute later he’s climbing through a window into her living room. When inside, he moves quietly towards her bedroom. In the light from the bedside lamp he can see an empty, unmade bed. He steps in confidently, and is so very surprised to see Jasmine sitting around the corner, in the low light, drinking her wine and smoking her cigarettes.

She’s been thinking about Stirling and all the things that happened between them, both good and bad. She is very drunk. She has obviously been crying, but she isn’t now. She laughs almost mockingly to see him, as if she’d thought of summoning him magically and presto, he’s here.

She starts to talk, and doesn’t stop for a long time. It’s a drunken tirade, an outpouring of all the things she’s been going through, all the things she’s suffered through, both with him and since they’ve stopped as well. She shouts, and moans, whispers and cries and keeps going. Something she’s talking directly to him about what’s wrong with him, sometimes she doesn’t even seem to be talking to him at all. She talks about the years they spent together, how bad and how good they were, she talks about sex and love and loss, she talks about fucking strangers and how good and bad that makes her feel. She feels she’s building up to something, to some way of expressing how she might be able to live on her own, to a realisation or an epiphany, but sometimes the thread is comprehensively lost along the way. Finally, she’s spent, she subsides into a relative silence.

Throughout, he doesn’t say anything. He watches and listens; when she looks at him he looks at the ground. When she’s finished, he finally speaks. He says he’s sorry, he asks if he can hold for just a moment. She’s hesitant, but she agrees.

He leans over and holds her. Initially it’s quiet and clean, but soon he’s holding her a bit tighter and harder. He pulls her against him, a little aggressively. He holds the hair on the back of her head, and tries to pull it down towards his crotch.

At this, she protests loudly: “What are you doing? Let me go!”

When he doesn’t respond she pulls away, scratching and flailing, screaming and yelling. He’s silent, but when she pulls away and looks at him, he turns away and heads for the door, narrowly avoiding being hit by the wine bottle she throws at him. She follows him to the door, locks it behind him, and leans against it.


A little later we see her standing at the window, looking at the street, self-contained.


We watch Stirling walking slowly, evenly down the road. Neither we nor he have any idea where he’s going. He looks tired, blank, but we can sense the turmoil behind the mask.


Since The Accident

Campbell Walker – Director’s Notes

“There’s a gap in my brain and i haven’t been the same since the accident…”

-Scorched Earth Policy, “Since the Accident”

Scorched Earth Policy were a legendarily feral, chaotic Christchurch band from the mid 80s. Although both their EPs were released on Flying Nun, they only had a tenuous resemblance to the Dunedin sound bands of the same period – or to anyone else really. Combining intermittent pop smarts with a grim horror/ sci fi world-view and a sound that would frequently creep, roar and writhe, they were a band apart even in the extraordinarily fertile darkness that was the under-appreciated 80s Christchurch scene.

Their song Since The Accident is a typically violent, uncontrolled ride through a comic-book view of brain damage. Its not exactly a subtle or accurate picture of mental illness, but its a great blast of a discordant rock song, and one of my all-time favourites when there’s heavy drinking to be done. I wanted to evoke it in naming this film, because there is a kind of lurid insanity in the way the characters are responding to their break up, to the inevitable and necessary collapse of their long term relationship, that is ridiculously improbable, yet completely normal at the same time.

The title is also an indication that the film is not about a couple’s relationship failing, but rather about what happens after that, and that the causes of the failure are of much less importance than the damage caused by it.

I often refer to my last epochally destructive separation – 2 and a bit years ago – in these sorts of terms – “Don’t talk about the war”, “Still recovering from the accident”. I sometimes feel a certain reluctance to talk about it outside of these euphemistic terms – it’s just easier that way and less painful. The accident occurred, the amputated limbs still make their phantom presences felt, there’s no way to pretend it didn’t happen, or to pretend that I wasn’t driving drunk at the time – but why would I want to evoke all the details of the car spinning round with me stuck inside? Much easier to use a painless shorthand for those events and try and move on with getting better as fast as possible.

This is what Stirling and Jasmine are doing in this film – diving determinedly and blindly into moving past having to think about the accident of their lives being irrevocably changed, thinking so hard about dodging the pain of the moment that there’s no room to notice that they may be doing even worse damage to themselves with their recovery plans. Everybody who has suffered a really major relationship break is aware that there’s no quick fix for it, even if it had to be done – but that doesn’t mean that it’s possible to just sit there and wait for healing to occur. Even worse, an adult separation after a long, interdependent relationship usually leads to a period of enforced solitude for people who’ve forgotten how to be on their own, in all kinds of ways, but who have no ability or inclination to interact positively with anyone else either. Both Jasmine and Stirling are in that position, and the film will follow them through their different routes – Jasmine’s leads towards, just maybe, a possible recovery and the ability to be moving forward on her own, Stirling’s is going pretty much straight to hell.

There are lots of ways to try and recover from the trauma of separation. Both Stirling and Jasmine have chosen to basically try and fuck their way out of it. This means a film with a lot of fucking in it, an untypical and possible unwise strategy in a country where film-makers flinch dramatically from exploring the way that sex is a complicated, messy, uncontrollable part of many people’s lives. To show this, the sex in Since The Accident will be complicated and messy, violent and ugly at some times, quiet and calm at others, concerned with the appropriate emotions for this film of power and powerlessness, fear, need, control, failure, anger, pain, compulsion… but also warmth, compassion, companionship and excitement, and the search for meaningful emotional connection. There will be no L-shaped sheets, no soft focus fades to musical montage, none of the traditional cop-outs of movies and TV to the perils of trying to show sex as other than an embarrassed observing of a plot point, but also no careful racking of acceptable titillating tickboxes of exposure with an arse here and a breast there… The sex scenes will be graphic, but emotionally, more than physically, and the idea is that the viewer should be sufficiently involved in the emotional intensity and complexity of the scene they don’t get time to add up physical exposures or lack there of to themselves.

Obviously most actors in New Zealand come from a background where this is not what usually happens in films. And while it may be possible to bring together ten good actors in New Zealand and get them to feel comfortable diving happily into a film full of grim, realistic sex scenes without having to spend a lot of time negotiating the processes and possibilities, I’m not sure it’s a good idea. The best way to negotiate this is slowly and carefully through a thorough process of building trust between actor and director in the workshopping process, taking time to build the scenes in a private and secure environment.

To do this requires time and money – not a lot by film standards, but more than a no-budget process can provide. For a film like this – and all my work for that matter – the most important resource is the actors, and accordingly the project is based first and foremost around giving the performers what they’ll need to reach the marks they need to reach. This means paying them a little so they can spend all their time concentrating on the project, or recovering from the stresses inevitable in delving into such dark and harsh emotional states. This means working in real and consistent locations, with a small crew who aren’t taking all day to light, this means shooting in long, uninterrupted takes to allow full levels of realism and intensity to be reached, this means giving the actors a lot of say in creating the characters they play through an open script and through heavy use of improvisation. This means spending as long a time as possible shooting the film with the actors on location.

The best film I’ve made yet is Little Bits of Light. A SIPF grant of $25 000 for production meant we had just enough to spend a month on location with 2 actors and a small crew. My other films have been made with no external production funding. This meant a week’s shooting, more or less. The difference in what we could achieve with a little money and time was amazing, revelatory! The difference in the film over my other features seems clear to me as well. The nature of the work I do means that I’m always likely to be in a guerilla filmmaker at least some of the time, and I’ve come to accept, sometimes relish that… but going back to a no budget project with Broken Black Lines (currently nearing completion, after being in very slow production for 2 years plus) after Little Bits of Light has really served to focus what can be done with a budget, and to make me think about the kind of film I would make if i could.

I don’t make physically extravagant films – i couldn’t, and still get to choose the complex and stressful themes that most interest me. In the world of New Zealand film, careful, observational movies about real, unglamorous, non-parodic, non-emblematic characters not shoved violently into an unrealistic plot are really an uncommercial proposition. It’s not our cinematic tradition! Even the films that are interested in touching on this usually have to deal with being shoved into a genre straitjacket.

Maybe it’s something to do with the supposed emotional reticence of New Zealanders – certainly we live in a culture where people commonly use “Too much information” as a response to any kind of personal statement about sex. But making a film like this is going to be a significant challenge. Between the people who assume a film with this many sex scenes is pornography, and the people who flinch from watching a film that is realistic and stressful because they “get real life at home”, I’m confident there’s a substantial audience out there of people who will be interested in taking a trip through somewhat a stressful film world to see recognisable, non-cliched New Zealanders dealing with recognisable situations in recognisable ways – but ways that until now have not been recognisable very often in films.

Likewise, as reading the treatment will indicate, the film isn’t based around traditional film storytelling. It is quite strongly structured, in a symmetrical fashion. But neither the story nor the characters are going to be compelled to act in the predictable or predictably unpredictable ways film characters are usually expected to act. Instead they’re allowed to be as close as possible to real people and real events: complicated, confused people getting lost in messy, uncontrollable events.

Audience responses are hard to predict because we’re not telling the audience how to respond. I don’t know yet how the characters are going to turn out, because I’ve only started the process of creating them – the biggest part of it will be done with the actors, finding the people within them that can inhabit the world we’ve written for them, negotiating the process of giving these characters flesh, allowing them room to spring up, then carefully putting them into place next to each other and among the events imposed upon them – sometimes changing the events dramatically to fit the characters, sometimes squeezing them to fit together, always adding new scenes, new emotions, new worlds as we find them working with the actors, then redefining all these terms afterwards in the edit suite, usually losing many of the best aspects of them along the road to finding the precise film.

This was how we made Little Bits Of Light: we shot a lot of scenes, most of which aren’t still there, many of which were better/ richer/ tougher/ funnier than the ones we used. Some scenes were written a long time beforehand, some we came up with on the spot, some grew from an original idea that was wrong when we planned it. Everybody involved contributed new ideas for scenes, and many of the ones that weren’t used in the final film were the ones that best shaped the characters and so informed what became the final film. It’s an extremely organic process. To work best it takes time with actors of courage and talent, but working this way seems the only way to generate characters and performances, scenes and worlds of the kind of realism and intensity that I’m most interested in exploring.

In this respect the treatment for Since The Accident we’ve submitted – even though we’ve worked hard on achieving the right tone for my intentions – should not be viewed as a shooting script. It does give a close idea of the intended story, of the tone of the film, of world of the film. But it’s also a kind of scrapbook for the next step – working with the actors, taking paper scenes and trying to make them seem like real events. The final film may be comprehensively different, or relatively similar.

An example: in the treatment, the last shot of the film shows Stirling walking off to an uncertain future, the second to last shot shows Jasmine having gotten him away from her. This is just as likely to be the other way round, ending on her toughness, a more positive end perhaps. It may end with her leaving the house, getting out and leaving him in possession, a very different toned ending. I’ve also written another, more sinister possibility, what i call the “Melodrama Happy Ending”, where they end up back together despite all the evidence that they’re really not good for each other. These all feel like strong possibilities for interesting ways to finish the film – we just have to find which is the right one. I’m prepared to bet, however, that it won’t be any of the above, that we’ll find the right ending during the shoot, because this is how it’s always happened in all the films I’ve made.

Stirling and Jasmine have been together for years and years, they’ve become completely adjusted to being with each other and relying on each other. But they break up because they’re not very happy with each other – although as the title indicates, the film is about everything after that. Essentially the specific events that meant they finished being together are not as important as the fact that it has happened.

Neither of them are going to come across as wonderful people, either – no-one is at their best when trying to cope with their world falling apart. These are characters who are sometimes easy to like and respect, but they’re also breaking under the strain. It’s important for the sake of the film that someone does something that’s going to be hard to deal with afterwards – as with Stirling trying to force himself on Jasmine at the end – but they’re both sometimes horrendous people all over the place. Audience members will have to make their own decisions about whether they can understand, sympathise or forgive these actions – its not a filmmaker’s job to make those decisions for anyone – but for me, all the things that happen in the film are common events around emotions that almost everybody has to cope with at some point.

Because both Jasmine and Stirling are under so much stress, we’re not really seeing a full picture of them. We’re just seeing them under stress! They’re not in a position to be warm, sweet, funny characters we’d love to hang out with – they don’t want to hang out with us much either. Neither of them have much interest in seeing people, because they’re ashamed of themselves, depressed and angry about what’s happened and not ready to come back to friends and family with an answer to what’s just happened. The only times they want to be close to people is during sex – and neither of them are having sex to find a new partner or anything so simple. They’re locked into powerful, dangerous compulsions, related both to loneliness and loss, but also to trying to have all the things they couldn’t have when they were together, and to both newly forming and long-held feelings of self-hate… and a hundred other things too.

The other characters are less clearly motivated – we don’t look inside their heads in the same way. The film will only see them in the context of Stirling and Jasmine. But I wanted to try and make these characters so there was room for them to be interesting, singular, surprising people for the brief period we’re spending with them. I’ve tried to make these scenes a little bit stretched away from expectations, to make them unpredictable, not just to be interesting but also because going home with a new person, a stranger, is an unpredictable and uncontrollable event.

©Seal in the Sea 2010