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At Circle's End

We have lovely neighbours. Madeline McNamara is one of them. A writer, director, actor. Her current gig, for Voice Arts Trust, is At Circle’s End: The Drama of Death from Diverse Perspectives. Part of the Death and Diversity programme at Museum of Wellington City and Sea, At Circle’s End explores death and dying, grief, mourning and lamentation, in a celebration of diversity and sameness, and of life. And to create this unique production, Madeline’s worked with a group of strangers, diverse in culture, faith, age and performance experience. There will be six 40-minute performances only:

7pm Friday 18 November
3pm Saturday 19 November
3pm Sunday 20 November
7pm Friday 25 November
3pm Saturday 26 November
3pm Sunday 27 November.

Entry is by koha/donation. Limited seating, booking is essential: call 472 8904.
If you saw Madeline’s Demeter’s Dark Ride (nominated for Most Original Production of the Year in the Chapman Tripp Awards that year) you’ll realise that At Circle’s End explores similar themes and imagine that you’re in for a powerful experience.

You may also remember Madeline from the Development trailer, as Viv, down on the Oriental Bay beach, explaining how a screenplay works. In Development, Viv’s the filmmaker who in late middle-age still hasn’t resolved a key issue for many women filmmakers: how to manage her work, motherhood, and an intimate domestic relationship.

I invited a poet, whom I first encountered (long ago) as a fine actor, to play Viv. I invited a filmmaker, a performer from way back, to play Viv. Each refused, for obvious and less obvious reasons. And then I thought of Madeline. And am so glad I did. Because she is just right. And (like Kyna Morgan at HerFilm with the wider Development project) Madeline keeps on me on track. With Development-the-movie.

Now and then Madeline and I do neighbourly stuff together. Often this involves a walk along Oriental Parade. And on the way home, often just before we reach her driveway, very near to where we filmed that beach scene, she asks me about Development. And I explain where it’s at.

The other night we went to see Sacha Copland’s RISE at Bats (“Love does not just sit there like a stone; it has to be made, like bread, remade all the time, made new”—Ursula Le Guin) and then had a long walk in the rain (warm, no wind!) to catch up on what we’re doing and being. Madeline in her elegant black raincoat, me in my jeans and the sleeveless Driz-a-Bone jacket that Viv wears under her big leather coat (see picture above), following the seawall, under the Norfolk pines with their fairy lights. Like the south of France, but with very few people.

photo: Jane Harris

Then came the Development question. As usual, it took me by surprise. Because my mind was elsewhere, with what’s happening now (a lot). So my response was a little incoherent. But a few minutes later, after a damp walk up the zigzag to my place, past our quince tree, its last few blossoms lit by the zigzag’s street light, and in the back door, where the kitchen light shone on the pear tree’s full blossoming, I knew how to begin a new draft of Development-the-movie. At the end of RISE, the cast handed out warm fresh bread, torn from round (Arobake) loaves. And Madeline told me about a woman artist friend who didn’t cook much, lived on hunks of bread, a little like the photographer Bill Cunningham (she’d just seen Bill Cunningham New York). The bread’s my starting place. Yay.

Here in Mt Vic, alterations, renovations and restorations always compromise spring's pleasures. And the next morning the ambient noise from routers, drills, sanders and other assorted power tools reminded me that beauty’s often associated with distress. And the distress is often unexpected, like the water-blaster next door and the post-hole digger on the zigzag. Alongside my excitement about bread’s potential within a new draft of Development, I needed to think more deeply about the distress associated with project.

So here’s a fuller answer to Madeline’s question. A big thank you, Madeline, for your patience and for inspiring me to focus on Development-the-movie again, and to attempt to articulate my progress.

It’s almost two years since we spent a couple of days filming Development and Nancy Coory decided that she wasn’t able to play Emily, the central role I wrote for her. One year since I went to the Branchage Directors Lab and received European responses to the project, to place alongside Linda Voorhees’ response and feedback from others, including Madeline. And while I’ve worked on the wider Development project I’ve delayed addressing the problems associated with the Development-the-movie screenplay now that Nancy’s gone, and with the funding the project needs. Instead, I’ve completed Grow Wellington’s Activate course for entrepreneurs. I’ve researched and experimented online, often with Kyna, as we explore ideas about to increase audiences for screen-based work by, about and for women and support other women’s projects. I’ve published a free book 7 Risks for Single Mothers; & the Art of Managing Them.

I wrote a wee screenplay for an animation now in production (with a lot of beautiful help) that convinced me that I love writing scripts and do it well. I've tutored Women and Film, a third year topic at Victoria University, and thanks to lecturer Liz Watkins and the students, that's helped me to reassess and revise my theoretical standpoint. (It still needs work.) During the course, I saw another narrative feature about a woman filmmaker: Sheila McLaughlin’s She Must Be Seeing Things (1987) and now that’s an additional influence, alongside Sally Potter’s The Gold Diggers (1983). All this has transformed my ideas about women’s filmmaking and about finding resources for stories by, about and for women. Transformed my ideas about media convergence’s influence on screen-based storytelling. Transformed me.

So what does this mean for the next draft of Development? Here’s the text for the front page on the website:
What would you sacrifice to make a movie? A friendship? Love? Motherhood? Your home? Your life?

We are preparing to make Development, a feature film from-the-heart. Set in an imaginary corner of Wellywood, Development-the-movie is about women who want to make movies, wherever they are. It is also a meditation on Jane Campion's challenge: "Women filmmakers must put on their coats of armour and get going, because we need them."
How can the ‘new’ me articulate these ideas? One difficult element in the script is the role of death. Its two deaths came from my conversation with Nancy, over years, and are part of that conversation. Now there’s no Nancy, now I’m a different person, do I have to rethink those deaths? Are they still important? And have I sufficiently grieved about Nancy’s withdrawal yet, so I can think clearly?

Another difficult element is media convergence. As media converge, am I sure that I want to write this story as a conventional film script and produce it as a conventional feature? The other day, US producers Ted Hope and Christine Vachon (@kvpi) held a masterclass, and I followed the tweets under the #khnyc hashtag. Here are those which made me think about the platform(s) for Development, with many thanks to the generous tweeple at the masterclass, and to Christine Vachon and Ted Hope:
Online content is the new "riskaverse" (@kvpi)

"Multi platform hybrid direct distribution release" - got that?

Be platform agnostic, genre agnostic, and forum/screening venue agnostic to survive...

"5 years ago directors didn't want to do TV, next ground is feature length content online." @kvpi

@TedHope wonders what is that excellent feature-length online content that can survive twitter/Facebook breaks?
And I looked at Ti Wainui’s Hemingway’s experiment, and thought hmmm, kinda film-like/though absolutely not a film. But arguably a kind of webseries. With regular breaks that allow for short attention spans and Twitter/Facebook breaks, without the distractions of many webseries sites. With ‘notes’ at the end of each short chapter, including visual elements. Could Development work like that, perhaps, with more or mostly film content and cross-referencing to music/podcasts/clips, to this blog (which has always been part of the project), even to statistics, all of which viewers could watch, read and respond to, or not? What would that mean for the difficult financing issues? What will best suit the Development audience?

And then I re-read The Conversations, between novelist Michael Ondaatje and film and sound editor Walter Murch, one of my all-time favorite film books. And in a discussion about how people choose projects (Walter Murch: “In an ideal situation…an actor chooses a part that represents some emotional truth to her as an individual, which pushes her somewhere she has not gone before”), Michael Ondaatje responds:
There’s a line of Saul Bellow’s— “I write to discover the next room in my fate.” In this way, I think, many novels are self-portraits—or future self-portraits, self explorations, even if the story is set in an alien situation. You can try on this costume, that costume.
And that’s where I am. Trying on this costume, that costume. Development will push me somewhere I’ve not been before. Yes, I’ll start with bread. And then I’ll write 'to discover the next room in my fate'. Which makes it more likely that death will be in there, somewhere. This summer, encouraged by Madeline’s gentle intervention, and occasional questions from other filmmakers like Campbell X and Jaye D., I’ll be back into Final Draft. Working out the next step. Watch this space. And, if you’re in Wellington, check out At Circle’s End, any day now?


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