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In memorium: Paul Swadel – Director, Producer and Educator

08 Apr 2016 2:20 PM | Peter Parnham (Administrator)

NZCS members Marc Swadel and Leon Narbey NZCS write in memory of his brother, who was well known in the New Zealand screen industry as a director, producer, and educator. 

On 18 March 2016, my brother Paul lost his hard-fought battle with dementia. He was 47. He went in his sleep, surrounded by his family in his home town of Christchurch. At that moment, we all lost a great bloke and a true force for good in film and TV.

Paul crammed a lot in to his short life. He was a director and producer of Cannes-nominated, award-winning arts documentaries, music videos, features, commercials and short films. As an executive producer and development executive, he had an impressive track record of mentoring new talent with the NZ Film Commission, and as a teacher and inspiration to hundreds of students at Waikato Polytech, The Media Design School, and the Elam School of Fine Arts.

There would not be many people in film in NZ who had not known, or worked with Paul in some way.

I was amazingly lucky to be able to work as a co-director, DP, soundie and collaborator with my brother over the last 20 years. Paul came from a fine arts/painting background, and ‘got’ the art and language of cinematography, which is a rare gift in a producer or director, especially in TV.

Paul’s big grin and dark humour will be missed.

A celebration of Paul’s life and work, with a showing on 35mm, will be held at the Hollywood Cinema, 20 St Georges Rd, Avondale, at 7:30 pm this Sunday 10 April. Feel free to BYO and toast to the memory of Swad.

Marc Swadel, April 2016

Leon Narbey NZCS relates his time working with Paul

‘I was fortunate to collaborate with Paul Swadel on two productions that he directed: Colin McCahon: I Am 2004, and The Big Picture series 2007.

Late at night in a London budget hotel, I had to deliver and exchange cloned HD rushes with Paul. The door opened and I was greeted with his smiling jet-lagged sleep deprived eyes, while in the dark background surrounding his face was a pool of laptops running with that day’s rushes amongst a tangle of cables, flashing drives and clones.

His face and his expression in this context will always stay with me.

Paul was the most hands on director I have ever worked with. He wanted to know everything about cameras, especially film cameras. He was more versant and cognizant of the new digital formats than I was at that time.

We shot Colin McCahon: I Am in four formats: super 8mm B&W, hand cranked and single frame 16mm, and two digital formats. Paul wanted this blunt conjunction of grain and texture with the pulse and fluctuation of exposure giving it a painterly or even kinetic bounce; a subjective attempt at projecting McCahon back into a filmic landscape.

On The Big Picture we wanted a small kit for international travel and for Paul it had to be a small 1080 HD capture camera (which was the ultimate in that day).

At that time, your recording duration was very limited and we knew Hamish Keith was going to deliver long complex voice to cameras pieces and the last thing we needed was a run out just when he was peaking. Paul sorted it by devising auxiliary 1 GB external hard drives (then larger than a pack of butter) and attaching them to the camera.

But Paul was more than just a technician.

His relationship with Hamish was casual and yet firm; always able to ignite and project glowing performances from Hamish. At the National Archives in The Hague, Paul’s charm secured us the use of service trollies, making one into a make shift camera-dolly which allowed us to move with Hamish as he walked and talked amongst the many aisles of collated material, ending with Tasman’s journals. I will always remember being with Paul on our knees closely examining Isaac Gilseman’s drawings of Tasman’s encounter at Murderers Bay in 1642. It was just us in a treasure store, with a magnified lens on the camera only millimetres from the surface, capturing the marks someone else had made all those years ago.

I will very much miss Paul’s vitality, verve, and energy.

Leon Narbey, April 2016

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