Remembering DEGNZ Member and Director Paul Swadel

Our regular column this week has been given over to writer/director Glenn Standring who writes on the passing of friend and colleague Paul Swadel.

This week our very dear friend and colleague, Paul Swadel, died in Christchurch. Paul was only 47 years old and with many things yet to achieve in life. Shockingly, not much more than 2 years ago, he was diagnosed with an early onset form of dementia. It’s a cruel disease for such a brilliant mind and for his bewildered close friends and love ones.

Many came into Paul’s orbit during his film career. He helped, harnessed and downright kicked many a film into life both as a director, producer and industry exec. He did exactly that with me at art school in Christchurch, where we both studied film. I was about to direct my first short film and he agreed to produce it. It was called Zerographic, a story about a young man who becomes obsessed with a Female Television News Anchor and begins to photocopy pieces of his body and send the images through the mail to her. Perverse I know. Paul’s immediate thought when I showed him the script was…

“We’re gonna need sponsorship.”

“Sponsorship?”

“We need great people,” he reasoned, “to make the film great. The best people we can get, but we can’t pay them.”

“Ok,” I said, “so what are your thinking?”

“Everyone likes to drink booze, right?” I nodded. “And everyone likes to smoke cigarettes?”

“Yes,” I said, following along. Remember, this was the early 1990s, everyone drunk a lot and smoked a lot, well everyone we knew.

I can still remember sitting in an office, pitching the film to a slightly stunned Dominion Breweries Exec, especially the part of the story where the female news anchor becomes amorous with the giant photocopied man she has pieced together. I think I knew I was losing him at this point of the pitch, when Paul came in…

“Great isn’t? Now, after someone’s seen a film like that, what are they gonna want to do?”

The Exec, not unreasonably, shrugged.

“Drink,” Paul said, and closed the deal.

So the crew had DB until they couldn’t take it anymore and we all smoked cartons of Rothman’s of Pall Mall for months afterward. Unfortunately we had to give the Canon photocopier back.

That was Paul: an enabler, a film fan, a provocateur, a genuine deal maker, a bit of the wide boy, a lot of an artist, a friend. For me his work resonates most in his collaborations with James Cunningham (Delf, Infection, Poppy) and with one of our greats, Mr Leon Narbey (their docos Colin McCahon: I Am and The Big Picture). We’ll all miss him, both close friends and the 100s of colleagues who were helped and prodded and provoked by him over the years, he’s gone way too soon. But his passing reminds us all that we are not pitching a version of our lives here, we’re making it, right now, we’re in production and we only get to make one.

Glenn Standring
Dunedin