Not the final cut for Grahame Sydney

Wanaka reporter Marjorie Cook finds that Grahame Sydney's latest masterpiece is neither painted nor finished

Artist Grahame Sydney might as well have Central Otago branded across his forehead.

He didn't ask to represent the province but because of his paintings he has had to shoulder the responsibility, he tells me over a cup of tea.

"That would be cowardly to avoid and I won't have that on my conscience," he says.

I can only imagine conversations Sydney might have around the dinner table with his friends writers Brian Turner and Owen Marshall, sportsman and thinker Anton Oliver and actor Sam Neill.

They too could probably be said to be Central Otago representatives, by default if not design.

The vision of a such a supper puts me in mind of the weathered, "Good things take time", cheese advert characters, who embody the type of four-seasons friendships that seem to endure in these interior parts of the world.

The suggestion makes Sydney laugh.

A resident of tiny Cambrian, near St Bathans, Sydney has famously painted this land of strange rock-scapes for many years.

Now, after two and a-half years of immersing himself in Otago Goldrush diggers' stories, he is making his first documentary film.

There is also a book called The Promised Land, which should be published later this year.

The film has been a family affair.

Sydney's composer daughter Melissa (29), has written the music, which is being recorded in her home town of Melbourne, while his graphic artist son Nick (27), of Queenstown, has been working on special treatments of archival footage.

Sydney (60) says he has not had the luxury of telling a story before.

"I have friends who make films and for decades I wished they would ask me to be involved, but they never did.

"I realised the phone was never going to ring," he says, smiling.

Words, on the other hand, have been his friends for years.

He loves writing and has an University of Otago degree in English and geography.

Recently, he's been condemned for using words to defend his landscape muse.

But more of those opinions later.

For now, we talk about crossing over to a new genre. It has been a time of intensive learning, but his recent photography projects in Antarctica helped, he says.

"The nature of my whole professional life has been observing, so the camera has enabled me to do the same looking as I've always done.

"But movie-making has to be a story. Paintings don't tell stories . . .

"Painters will use a single frame to allow people to bring their own stance, to wonder for themselves.

"It is not up to me [as a painter] to dictate the story. But for film, there has to be an implicit story."

Then, in the loud, echoing café in which we sit, air blue from burned garlic, there emerges a startling and frank admission.

Sydney will not have finished his film in time for the April 28 launch of the Festival of Colour in Wanaka.

In the candle I see..

Like a green
pearl in the
centre of
an open space
I see beautiful
skies and a
weeping of
Francesco Sinibaldi