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Documentary on celebrated writer Albert Wendt to screen at Vitu - Pacific Arts Fest

23 January 2007

A documentary on the life of the Pacific’s most controversial and respected writers, Albert Wendt, will screen during the Vitu – Pacific Arts Festival in Christchurch.

The New Oceania combines in-depth research, extensive travel, striking archival footage, dramatisations and the personal story of a charismatic individual, who offers a fresh perspective on this country. Directed by Shirley Horrocks, the documentary will screen at 6pm at the Christchurch Art Gallery on Thursday, 1 Feb.

The title of the documentary comes from his essay encouraging Pacific cultures to embrace change and accept the need for dissent. “Without it, our cultures will drown in self-love,” says Wendt.

The documentary has screened at the New Zealand International Film Festivals 2005, Hawaii International Film Festival 2005, New York Hawaii Film Festival 2006, and TV One (TVNZ) Festival series 2006.

Dividing his life between New Zealand, Samoa, and other parts of the Pacific, Wendt has written many novels, including two that have become feature films. These works have been the forerunner of today’s renaissance in Pacific arts in New Zealand, as represented in this documentary by dance group Black Grace, film-maker Sima Urale, painter John Pule and rap artist Tha Feelstyle, among many others.

Wendt has given the world a new vision of the Pacific, and New Zealand as a Pacific nation. New Zealanders are just waking up to the huge international reputation that Wendt has.

Growing up in Samoa, Wendt was 13 when he boarded a banana-boat to travel to New Zealand on a Government scholarship to the New Plymouth Boys’ High School. This led to further study at Victoria University and lifetime friendships with such New Zealand writers as James K. Baxter, Witi Ihimaera, and a love affair with a fellow student that inspired Wendt’s best-selling novel Sons for the Return Home.

Albert Wendt was born and raised in Samoa of the aiga Sa-Tuaopepe of Lefaga, the aiga Sa-Maualaivao of Malie, and the aiga Sa-Patu of Vaiala.  

Most of his formal education was in New Zealand. Early in his career he was Principal of Samoa College, then Deputy Vice-Chancellor of the University of the South Pacific, before moving to Auckland as Professor of New Zealand and Pacific Literature at Auckland University. 

He now holds the Citizens’ Chair in the English Department, University of Hawaii, and the Chair for New Zealand and Pacific Literature at the University of Auckland, New Zealand.  He has been in Hawaii almost three years and will be returning to New Zealand in mid 2008.

Since the 1970s he has been influential in shaping the development of New Zealand and Pacific literature and the international indigenous novel. His work is read and taught throughout the world, and has been translated into many languages. He has travelled all over the world lecturing on and reading his work. Wendt is acknowledged internationally as one of the Pacific’s and New Zealand’s major writers and intellectuals.  

He has published six novels, including Leaves of the Banyan Tree, Ola, and The Mango’s Kiss; four collections of poetry, the latest being The Book of the Black Star which is a combination of word and drawing; three collections of short stories, including the Best of Albert Wendt’s Stories; major anthologies of Pacific writing, and essays, poems and stories in magazines and journals internationally.

The French translation of his most recent novel, The Mango’s Kiss, was launched in Paris, France, in November 2006, while he was touring France, at the invitation of the French Government, giving readings and lectures, with 10 other New Zealand writers.  The Japanese translation of his collection of short stories, Flying Fox in the Freedom Tree and Other Stories, also came out in November, in Japan.

Wendt has won many literary awards, including the Watties Book Prize in 1980 for his novel Leaves of the Banyan Tree, the Commonwealth Book Prize for South-East Asia, and the Pacific Region in 1993 for his novel Ola. His play, The Songmaker’s Chair, played to sold-out houses during the first Auckland Festival in 2003, the Wellington International Festival, and more recently at the Kumu Kahua Theatre, in Honolulu, again to packed houses.

He has won many honors, including honorary doctorates from the University of Bourgoyne, France, and Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. In 2000 he was awarded the Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for his services to literature.  He was also awarded the Nikkei Asia Prize for Culture in 2004.

He has taught literature and creative writing in Samoa, Fiji, New Zealand and the USA for most of his teaching life, and has mentored many successful writers, artists and academics.

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