Barry Barclay tackled the difficult issues of our time with passion and
enthusiasm, and thought very deeply about the cinematographer’s relationship to them. His approach was diametrically opposed to the newspaper or TV media approach which sees whatever is observed as nothing more than a platform for selling advertising.
Photo by Nicola Topping
He told it the way it was, skilfully turning any
documentary into an epic of Socratic grandeur. He was not into idle
entertainment, and yet nothing could be more entertaining than his
perceptive view of human nature, and the sweep of his vision.
For Barry there were no short cuts. If you were driving to Tinopai then you needed to know it was one of those long dusty drives where you wondered if you were ever going to get there. The TV boffins felt a 20 second clip was plenty, but Barry knew they were taking away the experience. How can you know what it was like to sail to England if you have only travelled in the comfort of a 747? To really see one of Barry’s films you had to see the Director’s Cut.
The journey to Tinopai may have been tedious but Barry’s films never were. The preparation made clarity possible. One line said it all in “The Kaipara Affair”. The crew rowed out to the stranger fishing in the Kaipara. “Where are you from?” “Thames.” “Then what are you doing fishing up here?” “There are no fish left at Thames.” When one line was enough Barry left it at that.
After the world premier of the Kaipara Affair at the SkyCity Theatre all the protagonists gathered around his wheelchair. He was at that time recovering from a stroke and it would be another stroke which toppled him. Rather than continuing their violent argument everyone was able to reflect on the bigger picture.
Barry died in the Hokianga in February 2008, at only 63. I had last seen him at the Hokianga Film Festival the previous year. It was his kind of environment. Sharing kai and fierce debate on the Moira Marae at Whirinaki. Exploring the difficult issues about the why and how of images.
Barry thought more deeply than anyone about the ownership of images and explored all this in “Mana tuturu”, which was published in 2006. It traces the story of his difficult relationship with the film archive. Pakeha may think they know who owns the foreshore and seabed, because for them ownership is but a stepping stone to exploitation. For Maori ownership is quite different. Barry explored the theoretical possibility that a camera crew had come to Aotearoa with Cook in 1769. For what purposes might the images be used, and how might permission be sought for those purposes?
Barry had begun thinking deeply about these issues in the 1974 “Tangata Whenua” television series which he made along with Michael King.
When he died he was an advocate for carefully archiving the wild footage of the Hokianga oral history being filmed by Marg, Clare and Lloyd with assistance from the ASB Community Trusts. The process of cutting and editing produces a product which reflects expectations different from those telling their stories. In another time and another place the wild footage might have a very different story to tell.
When I am filmed for television I always ask for a copy of the wild footage.
Barry worked within a community. I shall never forget the world premier of “Ngati” in the Civic. The theatre was filled with East Coast Maori. The atmoshere was electric. It was their film. Barry was saying the things which needed to be said. In 1988 “Ngati” went on to win “Best film”, “Best screenplay”, “Best actor” and “Best actress”. It also won “Best film” at the Taormina Film Festival in Italy, and was shown at Cannes. Barry went on to direct “Feathers of Peace” which won a Media Peace Award. His “Neglected Miracle” spurred Maori leaders to lodge the WAI 262 claim, to protect Aotearoa’s indigenous flora and fauna from a commercial takeover.
In an economic world where everything has a price but nothing has value Barry gave a voice to indigenous values, and strength to individuals who dared to be different by asserting that they were the unique, important repositories of their whakapapa, with a story to tell and deserving of respect.