Getting Rid of the Albatross / Watching Love Dry: Collected / selected filmworks directed by Campbell Walker

A small but intense retrospective -a burst of 4 features in 2 days (and a few shorts) directed by recent Dunedin immigrant Campbell Walker between 1997 and 2011…

Wednesday 14th September 2011

Uncomfortable Comfortable (1999) 6 30 plus Three Nights(1997)

Why Can’t I Stop This Uncontrollable Dancing (2003) 9.00

Thursday 15th September 2011

Little Bits of Light (2005) 6.30

Broken Black Lines (2009) 9.00 plus W Lead (2010) and Town of Damnation (2010)


Campbell Walker: a bio

“A unique New Zealand cinematic voice – Achieves a kind of integrity and truth really seen on screens, uncluttered by any sense of artificiality” – Lumiere Reader, 2005

“An uncompromising role model for a new generation of young New Zealand digital film-makers” -NZ Listener, 2003

Kind of a prickly, enfant terrible of New Zealand cinema” – NZ Herald, 2005

[choose any three statements]

Campbell Walker is a filmmaker

Campbell Walker makes digital features

Campbell Walker makes relationship films

Campbell Walker makes long slow tortuous films about intimate human interactions

Campbell Walker makes tersely languorous films about the way we interact as New Zealanders from well outside the power structures of film making in New Zealand

Campbell Walker is interested primarily in the possibilities of using cinematic time and space, sound and image, to reflect upon the complexities of culture and human interaction along an axis of realism

Campbell Walker is only interested in acting and has no interest in the camera

Campbell Walker makes ugly cheap films that grind the viewer’s face in the unentertaining minutiae of everyday life

Campbell Walker worked in a video shop in Wellington for ten years

Campbell Walker is an Aro Valley filmmaker

Campbell Walker lives in Dunedin

Campbell Walker is not a normal New Zealand filmmaker

Campbell Walker makes films about being a New Zealander

Campbell Walker will tell you too much about his intimate life

Campbell Walker plunders and loots his own life for material to make films from

Campbell Walker makes personal but fictional films

Campbell Walker just makes it up as he goes along

Campbell Walker is struggling to write a succinct yet definitive version of himself.

“in their utterly different ways, Peter Jackson and Campbell Walker represented the changes in New Zealand cinema and the threats to the viability of moderately budgeted, conventionally shot feature films” Frank Stark in New Zealand Film: An Illustrated History, 2011

LittleBits of Light at the Paramount. Tortuous. I can’t think of another way to describe this latest effort from Campbell Walker. The Film Commission finally gave him some money to make a film and he makes one of the most depressing and humourless films ever created. “ –, 2005

First, you get mellow, as Woody Allen once said, then you get ripe, then you fall off the tree. It is not a process likely to happen any time soon to Wellington film-maker Campbell Walker, who does a good line in prickly intensity. “Most people,” he says, “make movies about the kind of events that change people’s lives. My films are about events that can spoil your week.” Meaning, there are no fireballs or car chases in his movies. Nor do the likes of Meg Ryan and her adorable puppy meet the likes of Tom Hanks in his adorable sweater. Life, and good movies, are not like that.

What Walker does put onscreen is something far more recognisable – namely, the real-time hesitations, ambivalence and emotional loose ends that occur in human interaction. In his movies, he may observe the lives of his inner-city twentysomethings with anthropological rigour, but what happens during filming is also deliberately left open to chance. At a time when most film graduates plot their movies (and their careers) with cold-eyed precision, there is something splendidly perverse in asking an audience to think and react to what they’re seeing, to this extent.” – Gordon Campbell, NZ Listener, 2003

The Films:

Uncomfortable Comfortable (1999)

“The digital [feature film] revolution started [when] Wellington film-maker Campbell Walker debuted his first feature, Uncomfortable Comfortable at the 1999 [NZ] International Film Festival. -Philip Matthews, Senses of Cinema, 2004.

‘Uncomfortable Comfortable’ is really good… The Cocteau dictum states that when every means of visual communication is as easy as using a pencil and a paper, one can express oneself to one’s full potential using anything. I see that Campbell (walker) has really taken it to an extreme and his actors have done likewise” – NZ film pioneer John O’Shea, 1999.

The film’s faith in its characters allows it to sidestep the comedy of embarrassment into which it could so easily slip, and we end up with something much more satisfying and unexpected. In so completely bypassing the mainstream of New Zealand film,Uncomfortable Comfortable makes brave forays into areas seldom troubled by local filmmakers, and brings back footage that’s worth the risk” – Andrew Langridge, NZ Film Fest 1999.

Generally regarded as the first digital feature made in NZ, and something of a cause celebre at the time, we made Uncomfortable from an improvised script developed in workshopping with the actors and then shot over 5 days with increasing infidelity to the original text. In hindsight, a comedy – which we discovered at the first screening when several hundred people laughed in a slow, unwieldy ripple through the movie as they encountered unfamiliar familiarities in the film.

I wanted to take a slow, searching look at a couple in trouble – its not punched up melodrama, just the awkward way two people try and fail to negotiate the realisation that it isn’t really working out. At the time we were working within an explicitly realist mode, somewhere between John Cassavetes and Maurice Pialat, exploring the way that improvisation generates an emotional complexity within the characters while helping to maintain an interestingly curved narrative – CW

Why Can’t I Stop This Uncontrollable Dancing (2003)

Campbell Walker’s closely observed account of a young woman dealing ambiguously with phone harassment from a former boyfriend, Why Can’t I Stop This Uncontrollable Dancing? is virtually a pas de deux for camera and actress. Nia Robyn, best known for her work in Walker’s previous feature Uncomfortable Comfortable, possesses an uncanny, active intelligence on screen. The play of thought and feeling on her alert, fine-featured face commands the camera in an entirely naturalistic fashion. Here she suggests inner resources to match and reward Walker’s relentless scrutiny. Watching, for example, as she listens, hungover, to a series of drunken messages left the night before, you might feel you share every sensation of her amazement and dismay. “ – Bill Gosden, NZ Film Festival, 2003.

A closely observed psychodrama played out in large chunks of real time… A kind of de-dramatised stalker movie building up momentum and compulsion through monomaniacally close attention to the details of a small but disturbing episode in the life of a young woman and an old friend from another town and another time.

Featured in Hamish McDouall’s book 100 Essential New Zealand Films (Awa Press, 2009) – CW

I’m always most interested in making films that are about the way people interact and about the way people can’t interact properly. It would be arrogant indeed to presume that this is something I’m an expert on, and if I was I probably wouldn’t care enough to make a film about it. It’s not as simple or as glib as saying ‘the point is the process’, but to a very large extent, the point is only sufficiently interesting or complex if it is achieved as part of the process, and for that to take place in a film that I make, I usually need not to have a clear idea of how I’m going to get there before I do.

This was especially the case with Dancing. This film was improvised to an almost ridiculous degree – not only did we not plan events. I wouldn’t even let the actors know what they were going to do. They would have to create a whole interaction between themselves with almost no help from me.” — CW, 2003

Little Bits of Light (2005)

Intimate, 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 bouts of depression. Alex and Helen are taking a winter break in a rambling old house in the Taranaki countryside. The day may hold distinct and pleasurable ‘little bits of light’, but the nights are hellish and long… Screen acting of such a high order… 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, 2005

With [Little Bits of] Light, a sturdy whisky would be a more appropriate accompaniment than popcorn. While Walker’s films can be difficult to watch for their unrelenting social realism and rough visual style, they highlight one of the most special things about the medium of cinema – the ability of the film-maker to be able to move and challenge us and make us think about our own lives.” – Kiran Dass, NZ Herald, 2005

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 this kind of low budget but determined film-making, 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.” – CW (2006)

A film about dealing with depression, drawing on my own experiences with then-partner and co-writer Grace C Russell… not as autobiographical a film as has generally been assumed. – CW

Broken Black Lines (2009)

Walker’s style (along with many of the Aro Valley Digital film-makers) has always been minimalist/realist with largely improvised dialogue (imagine a mixture of Jean Eustache, Chantal Akerman and John Cassavetes) going back to his first short Three Nights and the subsequent feature-films Uncomfortable Comfortable,Why Can’t I Stop This Uncontrollable Dancing and Little Bits of Light. But this new film has something else. The others didn’t necessarily lack this thing – but it is stronger in Broken Black Lines, more refined (which is only to be expected). There is a self-conscious sense of humour which is refreshing in long take, minimalist, improvised cinema. This film is really funny. And the kinds of jokes it makes are both familiar and unexpected. Familiar because the humor could sit comfortably in an episode of Friends or Seinfeld, as well as Eustache’s The Mother and the Whore (collapsing the very real distinction between ‘high’ and ‘low’ aesthetic assumptions which dominate both mainstream and underground representations of themselves). Unexpected because experimental drama has a habit of taking itself too seriously and collapsing into modernist paradoxes (the realist film which does not realise it is a film is not possible in these times).

Note the subtle shifts of power between the characters (and the characteristically strong female lead – something all Walker’s films possess). Walker’s film revels in the affect-image – in the face (halting action, delaying the relation between cause and effect, opening onto a Deleuzian any-space-whatever). This film makes me feel things. I feel warmth toward the characters – genuine warmth. It is not warmth which is there from the start (engendered by stereotypes) but a warmth which builds as I experience something intimate with them. In Walker’s other films I felt far more like a voyeur, while in this one I feel invited in – as if my presence is necessary to cement the union of the characters. I feel joy at certain moments, happiness at others. It is a film filled with warmth and love. But it is not a film which ignores the pressures of life in order to represent objective happiness – it offers a sense of ‘happiness’ which is fleeting and entirely subjective, negotiated in the moment (without knowing in advance what it is which will make me happy, a non-consumptive happiness).” – Dick Whyte, Hotlink Cinema, 2009

Broken Black Lines was made in Wellington over small bursts between 2007 and now. The budget is in the “negligible” category, probably around NZ$500. We designed it to be a no-budget film that we could make quickly in 2007 when I returned from Auckland to Wellington on holiday. Half of it was shot then, half of it two years later, after what could be described as some fairly dramatic changes in the director’s life.

I’d been living in Auckland, married, and working an office job, which was making me more and more angry and depressed – this is very present in Part 1. We’d been planning a bigger project, working towards looking for funding that didn’t arrive. My friends Elric Kane and Andy Chappell, who were still in Wellington, basically told me I had to come down and make a film with them, so I adapted an idea for a TV series into a La Ronde-style piece that I figured could be made quickly and easily.

Characteristically, when I came down to Wellington to make it, I hadn’t really given anyone a lot of warning of what was going to happen – a quick emailed treatment, a notion for just a couple of the actors, an extreme level of enthusiasm for making a film again, and a parallel level of complete instability on the director’s part…

After shooting the first two parts in 2007 – and another part that I abandoned – I settled down for an extended period of being depressed and not feeling up to completing the film. In 2009, I rewrote the stuff we’d done, in many ways to reflect a slightly more pessimistic worldview that was suddenly appropriate to my life, and with the help of friends shot parts 3 and 4 over 2 days.” – CW (2009)

Screenings take place at the Threave Cinematheque, 1/367 High Street, City Rise, Dunedin. Entry by koha, informal or formal conversation with the filmmaker will take place after screenings. Films will start more or less on time.


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