Bill Direen: A Memory of Others – a film documentary by Simon Ogston, reviewed by Amanda Mills.
In the past few years, a number of original and inspiring music documentaries on NZ artists have appeared, two of the most notable (docos looking at Phil Dadson and The Skeptics) by Simon Ogston. Ogston’s latest work, ‘Bill Direen: A Memory of Others’ is a portrait of Direen, a truly original musical force, and a singular literary voice.
Ogston captures the creative process of Direen’s work and interweaves footage from his past musical and theatrical performances, as well as photographs and reminiscences of his childhood.
At one point early in the film, Direen comments, “It’s amazing how quickly things disappear,” a comment about memory, but also an understatement about the transience of everyday life events. While commentary appears throughout from musicians such as Hamish Kilgour and Steven Cogle, and writer Nick Bollinger on Direen the artist. These are contextual and place Direen squarely in the central frame throughout the film.
The narrative is framed around Direen’s late 2016 tour, which removes any sense of chronology. Ogston follows him around the country, re-visiting important locations – including the Janet Frame House in Oamaru – playing to different audiences with different collaborators with a series of intense, and often understated performances. One of the loveliest passages in the film comes when Ogston captures Direen performing with a children’s orchestra in Wellington.
Direen is painted as somewhat introspective, with a sense of place, and a strong DIY aesthetic, and the film is an evocative look at the musician and poet, placing him at the centre of a narrative around what it means to be an artist working in the medium of word and music. In addition, the film is beautifully shot, with sweeping images of the diverse NZ landscapes throughout, increasing the aural and visual appeal of a film of an artist who deserves greater recognition.