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Worth The Wait

25 Aug 2022
Get the Lowdown on the big news and (long-awaited) events hitting the creative community this week.

It may be months overdue - but it appears the Auckland Writers Festival (AWF) has been worth the wait.

While it feels that events are humming along at a rate that resembles normality these days, the lingering effects of pandemic dilemma can still be keenly felt. Cancellation rates are slowing, but they’re still there. Confidence in public attendance is growing, but there are still no guarantees.

AWF’s stoic place in the cultural calendar of mid-May was shoved on until August at a time where there was simply no faith in what the future held for live events.

The 21st edition of the festival still has some of the COVID-inspired digital offerings, but in the flesh is still at its heart. A couple of hundred events crammed into a week, with 230 writers and creatives sharing their mahi, their opinions and their passion.

These festivals have become so much more than just some well-entrenched local and international writers waxing lyrically on stage in conversation with an MC.

At the helm of AWF for the last time, Festival Director Anne O’Brien told The Lowdown “we’re three days in and just wrapping our schools programme which was attended by a 6000-strong horde of readers - with feedback from schools and students overwhelmingly positive. 

“Our theatre and performance works, including the premiere of Hello Darkness alongside our Art and Power, The Genius of Sondheim and Ka-Shue offerings have garnered great reviews and played to good houses; we have hundreds booked in for Clementine Ford and A.C Grayling, and attracted large audiences for Roger Horrock’s free lecture on ‘Culture in a Small Country’ and the launch of Hēmi Kelly’s te reo Māori translation of Irish play, Translations

Auckland Writers Festival night session. Photo: Ieuan Jenkins.

“It’s been a challenging time for us with the festival deferred by three months, and health issues for both front and back of house personnel, but we’re dealing with challenges as they arise.  Sales this year were later to pick up than is normal for us, but we’re not alone and this is an issue the whole sector is grappling with. 

“Despite that, we have 1300+ audiences lined up for our Festival gala and Dame Jane Campion, and groups between 100 and 1000 for the rest of the ticketed programme, with free programme on top, so we’re excited to push on to a vibrant weekend with tens of thousands expected to join us at the Aotea Centre and surrounds.”

Lizzie Harwood is among the plethora of talented New Zealand wordsmiths who are taking to the stage this week to share the joy of literature. She told The Lowdown it means a great deal to her to be featured, teaming up with fellow novelist Douglas Lloyd Jenkins for City of Change on Saturday afternoon (27 August) to discuss their shared backdrop of Tāmaki Makaurau.

“Since moving back to Aotearoa, I've found the NZ literary community to be welcoming but so busy with all of our gigs, side gigs and life. AWF brings everyone together and is a highlight of my year. 

“At last year's AWF, I met my Polaroid Nights publisher for the first time, Mary McCallum of The Cuba Press, where between sessions we hashed out an editing schedule to meet the publishing deadline. A year later, it's been out for 6 months and I'm constantly hearing from readers who loved it. I can't wait to share Polaroid Nights with more readers and soak up the ambience at this year's event. Bring on the words!”

Photo: Supplied.

Harwood and her fellow Toipoto mentee Alex Stone will also be involved in Streetside, a night of free author talks, reading and workshops in bars, galleries, saunas (yup, saunas) all around Beresford Square. Another from the Toipoto community, Award-winning playwright Nathan Joe teams up with another prodigious talent in poet Chris Tse for The Future Inherits and Loses Everything on Sunday (28 August).

Speaking of poets - with National Poetry Day landing this Friday (26 August), there are some events that bring that writing medium sharply into focus. A stand out is Intergenerational Play, which sees some of the country’s leading poets - Tayi Tibble, Anne Kennedy and Kevin Ireland - discuss what connects them and what separates them across generations.

Photographer Martin Hill and partner Philippa Jones will discuss their remarkable 20 year project of Environmental Scultpures on Saturday 27 August, with their documentary Fine Lines showing in Aotea Square most of the day on Friday.

With the likes of Arts Laureate Nigel Borell’s Toi Tū - Toi Ora conversation and an epic Pasifika line-up for New Dawn, the festival’s not just celebrating, but issuing challenges to perceptions and practices too.

It’s proving a welcome return of cultural conversation for the Supercity - but there is still some literary goodness to sink your teeth into around the country.

Next week the Storylines National Story Tour is taking authors Juliette MacIver, Tom E. Moffat, Emma Wood and illustrator Sandra Morris to visit Woodville, Dannevirke, Feilding, Bulls, Marton, Whanganui, Turakina, Sanson, and Palmerston North.

Urlich's lasting impact

It’s been a sad week for the local music community, with the news that Margaret Urlich’s (above) battle with cancer had reached a heartbreaking conclusion at just 57 years old.

A voice that grabs your attention and a charisma on camera and stage that was undeniable, Urlich rose to fame first as the frontwoman for Peking Man in the 80s, then as a solo artist and as a member of the beloved When The Cat’s Away supergroup. She’s loved across the Tasman too - where her role in Darryl Braithwaite’s Horses is iconic.

Veteran journalist Murray Cammick covered her remarkable career and told The Big Idea “Margaret Urlich’s talent stood out from day one, the voice, her dance moves and she had a cutting-edge image that was modern with no barbie-doll accoutrements. 

“When photographer Kerry Brown did a shoot of Peking Man for the cover of the June 1986 RipItUp magazine there was one casual photo of Margaret speaking with her brother Pat at the end of the film. I said to Sony’s Gilbert Egdell, ‘That would make a great cover.’ Egdell said to me, ‘I know nothing about it,’ handing me the complete film. 

“It was great to see Margaret achieve massive success in Australia, a country where every male record executive sees himself as a regal or divine stylist gifted to the female recording artists on his label. 

“Margaret’s own style evolved over the years as she sought to portray a modern female look, working with another NZ photographer, Polly Walker, to create her debut album cover.”

That she stepped away from the spotlight several decades ago was a shame for us, selfishly, as an audience - it’s fitting that Urlich made her own choices and was content with her many career achievements.

AudioCulture has a wonderful read from Urlich herself - republished following the news of her passing - reviewing her own career. It includes this great piece of advice.

“It takes a while to realise that for all the risk, effort, and personal stories we pour into our work, at the end of the day it is a product that may either fail or succeed, in commercial terms. I feel it is important, therefore, to feel proud of my music, irrespective of whether or not it is well received by others.”

Fellow musician and producer Peter Urlich paid tribute to his cousin - “she had a level of sophistication that marked her out. 

“Marg was super stylish, she oozed confidence but underneath, she was a female who had to overcome her shyness to try to make it in a male-dominated industry. And she did it! 

“When you look at her body of work from Room That Echoes to Escaping to Boy in the Moon, she absolutely had it all. I was a total fan and I'm very proud of her.”

Urlich leaves an indelible mark on the industry - and a long list of admirers of her extraordinary talent.

New names at top table

It may not be headline news, but there has been an important announcement this week for the creative community.

The Arts Council of New Zealand - which is governs Creative NZ - has announced two new members, with Bonita Bigham (Ngaruahine, Te Atiawa) and Whetū Fala (Ngā Rauru, Ngāti Maniapoto, Ngāti Maru ki Taranaki, Sāmoa, Rotuma) joining the Caren Rangi-led board.

The appointments were made by Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage Carmel Sepuloni - keeping true to her word from earlier this year, where she told The Big Idea about the importance of diversity in arts governance.

Bigham is in for Dean Whiting - who departs after a five year stint, with Fala coming into a vacant position.

Fala (above) is no stranger to governance in some of the country’s leading cultural organisations. She’s currently Co-Chair of Ngā Taongā Sound & Vision Film Archives, Board Director for Whakaata Māori (Māori Television), advisor for Internet Aotearoa and trustee with NZ Aotearoa Film Heritage Trust Te Puna Ataata.

Throw in previous executive and management roles including at the New Zealand Film Commission - it’s clear Fala’s built an impressive cultural sector resume.

The Whanganui-based Fala has also carved a formidable reputation as a creative over the last 35 years. Her company Fala Media produces a wide array of local content, with her bio noting she has “produced, directed and edited, hundreds of hours of television, including drama, documentaries, reality series and short films.” 

Fala told The Lowdown “I see that our creative industries in Aōtearoa are extremely busy doing the mahi. All sectors are experimenting, testing, looking at ways to add value to their practices. 

“Some are describing it to me as a re-set, of the way things used to be and the way things are now - global illness for want of a better way of describing it - is now affecting all work, from figuring out how some creatives can work remotely and contribute to the team to attracting or honouring audience expectations using digital technology.

On what she hopes to focus on in her new role, Fala states “I count myself fortunate to have spent most of my life working with storytellers from wonderful actors, writers, directors, producers in community and theatre in education to local news in  ngā reo rua - English and Māori - to our NZ filmmakers. I also join the whānau as an appointed member to Kōmiti Māori. 

“How digital tools and platforms can be used to help support creatives is of particular interest of mine - the development of NLP tools for Te Reo Māori currently being led by Māori media and data sovereignty colleagues are also an area of interest, and given the current environment, both are timely.

She adds “I want to see all our creatives have more opportunities to earn enough from their mahi to raise their families, have homes and feed themselves.” 

Representing South Taranaki, Bigham (above) will be leaning on her more than two decades worth of experience as both a governor and toi Māori practitioner.

Among her CV highlights, the double Master’s degrees holder (Fine Arts and Māori Visual Arts) is a founding member of local Māori artists collective Toi o Taranaki Ki Te Tonga, a Presiding Member for Oranga Marae, and an iwi representative on committees at both South Taranaki District and Taranaki Regional Councils.

As far as her practice goes, Bigham’s research has focused on cultural themes and practices, including raranga, tāniko, and kowhaiwhai.

Music moves

Ngatapa Black, Robert Wiremu, Dana Youngman. Photo: Supplied.

Speaking of boards - there’s more movement happening across the music sector.

SOUNZ Centre for New Zealand Music has appointed three new trustees.  

Ngatapa Black (Ngai Tūhoe, Te Whānau a Apanui, Ngāti Tūwharetoa) is the Head of Content at Whakaata Māori with a tv production background, a SOUNZ composer and has produced several albums. 

Robert Wiremu (Ngāti Kahungunu, Ngāti Porou, Ngāti Tūwharetoa) is singer, pianist, arranger, and SOUNZ composer who works as a vocal coach and musicianship teacher at the University of Auckland - with governance experience with Toi Waiata Aotearoa – the NZ National Singing School, the NZ Choral Federation, the Kiri Te Kanawa Foundation and the Auckland Chamber Choir. 

And Dana Youngman is a television executive with extensive experience working for Sky Network NZ and TVNZ, having last year won the NZ Women of Influence award in the Diversity Category.

And APRA AMCOS are opening the door for new board members - with their election nominations now until September 23. You need to be an APRA member in either Aotearoa or in Australia.

One writer director will be elected by the New Zealand writer membership - and one writer director to be elected by their Australian counterparts.

Any nominees will be up against two titans of the Aotearoa music scene.New Zealand Writer Director Bic Runga and Australian Writer Director Jenny Morris have both been in office for three successive annual terms since their last election and must retire - but both will stand for re-election.

Someday has arrived

Still from Mary Mary. Photo: Celeste Fontein.

If you like to get in on the ground floor with aspiring Aotearoa talent - then there’s plenty to be excited about in the next three weeks.

Series six of Someday Stories goes online next week, with teams of young, emerging filmmakers showing off their first professionally funded short films every Monday and Wednesday - starting with Gabriella Gilbert’s Mary Mary on August 29 and ending with Hand in Hand, written and directed by Shelley Waddams on 14 September.

The six shorts created came from a record 77 entries, the most since the concept began in 2017. In its short existence, it’s already opened doors with Someday Stories films being featured in international festivals in the likes of Los Angeles, Montana and Malmo, Sweden. 

Executive producer Chris Widdup told The Lowdown “What makes Someday Stories stand out is that it is a funding opportunity that has clearly defined eligibility rules which exclude more experienced filmmakers. 

“The idea is that filmmakers who are on the cusp of graduating from student or self-funded filmmakers get the experience of working with a commissioning partner to make a film on schedule - that delivers on their original proposal and also gives them the opportunity to develop their cinematic voice under the guidance of an experienced industry mentor. 

“The eligibility requirements and wrap-around support from the Someday team make Someday Stories a valuable stepping stone for an emerging filmmaker that NZ On Air has referred to as 'career making'.”

With the likes of vastly experienced writer, director and actor Fiona Samuels, Georgina Cordner whose producing credits include locals box office hits Cousins, Eagle vs Shark and The Breaker-Uppers, and Dylan Reeves, co-director of cult doco hit Tickled all on board as mentors - and the versatile Tainui Tukiwaho performing in this year’s entry Maumahara (below), there’s plenty of support for the rising talent backed in the 2022 project.

Photo: LK Creative.

As well as helping these creatives chase their dreams of becoming professionals in the industry, there’s also a clear intent to lift up marginalised voices and hear stories told from different perspectives. 

Talent worth keeping an eye on.

Ready to be challenged?

Still from Te Moana Meridian. Image: Sam Hamilton.

If you’re open to a change in thinking - there’s an interesting event happening at Artspace Aotearoa in Auckland this Saturday (27 August).

Te Moana Meridian Conference - a day-long event that accompanies an exhibition of the same name by Sam Hamilton running until the end of October - is drawing together some of the country’s deep cultural thinkers in a series of talanoa, panel discussions, and manaaki. It’s free to attend, but registration is required.

The essence of Hamilton’s show - an impressive video installation with an international cast of performers - is formed around a radical proposal to the United Nations: to relocate the prime meridian from Greenwich, London, to Te Moana-Nui-ā-Kiwa. 

Boundary defying creatives like Jack Gray, Emily Parr, Rhonda Tibble and Pita Turei will be part of the discussion that “seeks to not only review the function and legitimacy of a core piece of global infrastructure, but reimagine it entirely. And in doing so, consider how humanity might want to collectively and metaphysically locate, relate, and realign itself into the future.”

Also on K’ Road on Saturday, prolific artist Benjamin Work opens his latest exhibition of paintings and sculptures at Bergman Gallery.

Benjamin Work, Toloa-Tonga (2022), acrylic on canvas. Photo: Supplied. 

To’a Motu (Island Warrior)  sees the Tongan creative draw on the connectivity between the sacred islands of the Pacific and Aotearoa New Zealand. It’s the latest in Work’s drive to bring the historical Pacific motif and revive it with an urban context to help bring a new audience to Tonga’s visual culture.

Fur a good cause

Eliza Guerrero's contribution to the Cat Art Auction. Image: Supplied.

A hefty change in pace the following day (August 28) with the Cat Art Auction at Everybody’s in Auckland’s Fort Street.

And it’s far more than just a bit of fun.

Driven by cat-addicted Fangs and Fur owner Caroline Moore, over 40 Aotearoa artists and celebrities have provided artworks and photos to go under the hammer to raise money for Pet Refuge, with 100% of the proceeds heading to the charity that cares for the pets of people affected by domestic violence.

That’s close to the heart of contributing artist Hayley Theyers (her work #glamourpuss above).

"Growing up in a family with domestic violence, we often spent time in the Women’s Refuge but always went back home – and one reason was that our pets were still there. Had there been a Pet Refuge then, things might perhaps have been different."

Bids for both the silent and live auctions can be placed in person on Sunday - for both the silent and live auctions - or absentee bids can be placed now on their cat-alogue.

You can expect plenty more cat puns on the day - I have a strong feline about it… (sorry, couldn’t help myself).

Brains and Braun

Congrats to all the winners at the Voyager Media Awards presented over the weekend. 

But here at The Big Idea, we want to offer a special commendation for the Best Reporting - Arts and Culture award. A top line field, with the prize taken out by Newsroom and NZ Herald’s Steve Braunias, for an entry led by his investigation into Narrative Muse’s $500,000 funding approval and the outrage it caused in the creative community.

On the visual front, congratulations should be offered too for Azita Agnew’s (above) triumph in the Best Photo-Story/Essay in her intimate and honest mahi for Re:News with The Young and the Reckless - a deep look into New Zealand’s ongoing homeless youth problem.

You can see an impressive collection of Agnew's and the other finalists' work in this eye-catching gallery.