The Tide Keeper
“Who knows how to stem the tide except through dreams?”
One night an old man dreams a storm into his bed. In the optimism of his youth, he believed he could save the world. But now, nearing the end of his life, he is losing hope he has run out of time to make a difference.
The film is inspired by the life, and performed by the filmmaker’s father.
The Tide Keeper is a dance and puppetry film that speaks of one man's fears for the environment and future of humanity. Blending reality and fantasy, I worked with the presence and environmental concerns of my non-performer father, conservationist Lee Stuart. The process of making The Tide Keeper involved developing choreography through working with his body, puppetry and the manipulation of found objects of his home.
The protagonist (and my father Lee Stuart who performs him) is a disillusioned conservationist, struggling to protect his world from rampant development. In a time of rapidly changing cultures and environmental upheaval, he strives to be true to his values.
The Tide Keeper is part of my continuing research of states of ‘presence’ on film. It works with the presence of a non-performer, developing choreography through the habits and proximity of his physical body in relation to his home. One of the rules of the work is that no objects or props were added to the environment. The everyday objects were found and animated on-site. The only time we broke that rule was when we introduced the miniature version of the main character, the old man.
History of the Idea
The Tide Keeper began through discussion and collaboration with my father conservationist Lee Stuart. We have now worked together on three film projects. The first outcome was Bound, an installation as part of my Masters in Theatre Arts in 2010. The second was when both my father and stepmother became the main protagonists of my first feature film called The Red House (completed in 2012). It was during The Red House shoot that we started making The Tide Keeper. It began as a surreal dream-sequence that we shot to be part of the feature film. Ultimately it wasn’t the right language for the feature, so that scene ended up on the cutting room floor. Since completing The Red House I have often wanted to rework that dream sequence but it took a long time to find the dramaturgical arch of the idea. It was after showing the rough edit to my film mentor Australian filmmaker Rolf de Heer that inspiration struck, and I was able to write the action of short film you now see.
The real tide keeper
Lee has lived on a small island just off the coast of New Zealand for more than 30 years. His mission has been to keep the environmental integrity and sense of the small NZ community on his island. Lee is from a generation of people who cared for an island culture that is fast disappearing. In The Tide Keeper and my previous feature The Red House I was curious in how the generation we are born in changes our relationship to a place and our perception of/approach to/aspirations for life. I think my father’s generation has seen Aotearoa (New Zealand) change a lot.
In making The Tide Keeper I was interested in exploring in a surreal way, how it feels when the causes you were committed to and the contributions you made don’t have the same emphasis now as you grow older. Your impact in the world is waning. My father was part of the 70s activist generation and is still an idealist. In The Red House he says: “ideally the relationship between land and people is like that of a couple deeply in love”. He is trying to understand his place in a world that’s changing. In The Tide Keeper we were exploring his personal feeling of the growing tide of environmental vulnerability, his fears for the ocean, and impact of each of us has as individuals in the household waist we produce.
Collaboration in filmmaking
For me a film is like painting with the senses, blending light, sound and emotion together with collaborators and the audience. The beauty of film is you have to be present in the moment and recognise something special is happening, and at the same time capture that moment and find out how it fits into the bigger picture of life.
Film allows me to be really curious about people and the world, and I’ve always loved that a film is a shared experience created in the space between my collaborators, the audience and myself. We all bring our understanding to interpret and change the work. My work becomes stronger from working with intelligent people who nurture and challenge the ideas and the implementation along the way.