Artistic endeavour, or defying the odds

If you're a fan of the arts world and support the endeavour that underpins it, then here's a tale to gladden the heart.

But first a word or two about that endeavour.

Contrary to perceptions it is rarely less than seriously hard work. It may not be sweat-inducing physical labour, but grind, determination, persistence and bloody-minded self-belief are all part of it.

Not to mention "the vision thing".

Furthermore, what is seen, enjoyed, read, is merely the icing on the creative cake, the tip of the artistic iceberg.

Art consumers - and I use the term in its broadest sense - are not generally invited into the process of its creation, but occasionally it can be salutary to be reminded of it.

A few weeks back I had the privilege of reading a novel in draft written by a friend who has worked hard at it for a couple of years.

It's soon to be sent to the publishers, who may or may not decide to publish it.

Since my friend is already a published novelist - and more importantly because this is an excellent novel - there shouldn't be too many issues there, even in these straitened times.

But from whoa to go, it can take five years for a finely crafted work of fiction to see the light of day.

That's a heck of a lot of creative heartache.

I don't know how long it takes Roger Hall to write a play, but having greatly enjoyed his rich return to form in the latest, Four Flat Whites in Italy, at the Fortune the other night, it would be easy to assume that he whips them up in a trice.

The director, the terrific cast, the lighting and stage design all come together to make the wit and pin-point accuracy of his characterisations seem so effortless.

But it would be a mistake to assume it all just rolls painlessly off the word-processor.

I would be very surprised if the truth weren't somewhat different.

Most artists I know are their own fiercest critics, suffer torments of self-doubt and constantly interrogate the motives, methods and content of their work.

The trick is of course to rise above this and persist - at the same time paying the rent or the mortgage and doing all the other mundane things that it takes to keep body and soul together.

Artists do have them.

But back to my warming tale, which has a Dunedin connection.

It concerns the endeavours of a writer friend who after about seven years of hard yakka is finally shooting the feature film of his novel, The Insatiable Moon.

Mike Riddell, Dunedin-based for many years of the project's gestation, published the novel in 1997.

When I first met him in 2003 - about the time he was getting his James K.

Baxter play Jerusalem, Jerusalem off the ground - he was already working on the film version.

There's an entire novel in the windfalls, disappointments and reversals that have charted the project's rollercoaster ride.

At one stage the budget and interest was such that noted Scottish Indie film-maker Gillies MacKinnon was set to direct it, and James Nesbitt and Timothy Spall to appear alongside lead actor and Whale Rider star Rawiri Paratene.

Recession and lack of support on the home front - New Zealand Film Commission? - scuppered that particular permutation.

And the film, along with several years of hard labour, teetered on the brink of oblivion.

But the constant support of Paratene, a British producer, and Mike's own dogged self-belief - the same that saw him make the prize-winning Dunedin short film Cake Tin on a wing and a prayer - meant they adjusted their sights, opted for a shoe-string budget, high-end digital technology and found the support of a number of professionals who believed that there is more to the film business than the business of films.

There is art, there is creativity, and there are our own stories that need to be told.

In The Insatiable Moon, Paratene plays Arthur who believes he is the second son of God; he is also a psychiatric patient.

According to the film, now in its final week of shooting in Ponsonby, "is part love story, part drama, part postmodern religious epic . . .

"It's about the occurrence of magic in everyday life; it's about the sacred and profane meeting each other, and being mixed into something new that becomes far more than the sum of its parts."

It may not be Hollywood, but I can't wait to see it.

Admittedly I'm biased, but I suspect The Insatiable Moon will turn out to be yet another piece of Kiwi artistic endeavour that defied all the odds.

Simon Cunliffe is assistant editor at the Otago Daily Times.


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