The year that ...

Gay­lene Pre­ston on a con­ver­sa­tion that changed it all

Weekend Herald - Canvas - - LAST WORD + QUIZ -

Iturned 30 and came back to New Zealand after seven years in Bri­tain. It was Christ­mas week and sum­mer but the night I ar­rived in Welling­ton, there was a rag­ing southerly. I was picked up by my sis­ter’s boyfriend and, as we drove from the air­port through the Mount Vic tun­nel, the rain was go­ing up the wind­screen wipers. It was like be­ing Shack­le­ton at the Pole. I thought: “I must re­mem­ber never to live in this god­for­saken town.”

My sis­ter Jan was tour­ing with Split Enz. She was in Red Mole and they were the open­ing act, do­ing top­less fire-eat­ing and stilt-walk­ing. I’d never seen any­thing like it. I couldn’t put my fin­ger on it. It wasn’t good. It wasn’t bad. It was weird. The last thing I’d seen in Lon­don was Maria Mul­daur at Ron­nie Scott’s.

And ev­ery now and then, I’d come across some­thing won­drous and fa­mil­iar from my child­hood that I could re­late to, like lamp-posts, Mor­ris Mi­nors and re­volv­ing clothes­lines.

Jan said: “What are you do­ing to do?” It was just a big ques­tion mark. I’d lived very hap­pily away all that time, but the hills had called me. I’d come home but it wasn’t fa­mil­iar. That’s an un­der­state­ment. It was like be­ing on an acid trip with­out the acid.

There were lots of things I could do: car­toon­ing, pho­tog­ra­phy. I was a trained art ther­a­pist and I’d done drama ther­apy at Brix­ton Col­lege of Fur­ther Ed­u­ca­tion.

I wanted to be part of a cre­ative group, but I didn’t want to work in an in­sti­tu­tion. I went to see John O’Shea at Pa­cific Films in my Ossie Clark trousers and boots with rain­bows painted on them. I didn’t look like any­one else there. I had some fem­i­nist car­toons that were acer­bic but not very funny and an 8mm home movie. John sug­gested I go to Avalon and make tele­vi­sion with their women’s unit and I said: “The only thing I know for sure at this junc­ture is no more in­sti­tu­tions for me.”

And I didn’t know he hated Avalon be­cause they were shut­ting him out. He in­vited me to join Pa­cific Films as an art di­rec­tor and to try out all the de­part­ments. I went out with Rory O’Shea once as the cam­era as­sis­tant. I had to do the clap­per­board and carry the gear and I was hope­less at both.

I’d tran­si­tioned from an ur­ban com­mune in Stock­well where the pol­i­tics of house­work was dis­cussed daily to be­ing the only woman on the crew, in the van with the boys. And they called me “Bruce”. I took that in the spirit in which it was meant — I was in the gang. I don’t know if I’d have coped so well if I hadn’t had the years of liv­ing around the women’s lib­er­a­tion move­ment.

Then I met Barry Bar­clay at a party and he said: “What do you want to do?”

I said: “I’d like to be a cin­e­matog­ra­pher, but I can’t carry the gear. I don’t know if I can hack it.” Then I thought: I’ll own up.

I said: “I guess I’d re­ally like to di­rect.” And that was the first time I’d said that to any­one. He didn’t laugh.

“How old are you?”

“I’ve just turned 30.”

“You’re old enough,” he said. “You’d bet­ter get on with it.”

So I did.

As told to Paul Lit­tle.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from New Zealand

© PressReader. All rights reserved.