Native Affairs - Writer’s Retreat

By Iulia Leilua

Hollywood screenwriter David Seidler hit the headlines when he won an Oscar in 2011 for ‘The King’s Speech’. He used his own experiences as a stutterer and how he was inspired by King George VI’s efforts to overcome his serious speech impediment.

Today, David takes much of inspiration from his decade’s-long association with Māori and living for the best part of decade as a young man in Aotearoa. He was once married to a Māori woman with whom he has a son.

He says it makes him emotional just thinking about it, “I think it has had a very profound effect. And as the years go by I realise how profound it is, and what changes. At first I didn’t quite recognise it. But I realise it has put me back in touch with nature. I couldn’t have done on my own and it has put me in touch with a spirituality that I would probably not have accomplished on my own.  The whole concept, the Māori concept, that you are not alone. I realise from my Māori friends that you are not alone. You have all of your ancestors standing behind you. When a Māori soldier goes into battle, and I learned this when doing research on the Māori Battalion, they marched into battle with great warriors behind them and that’s a wonderful thing.”

On ‘The King’s Speech’: “My parents said he was a far worse stutterer than you – he’s not totally cured but he’s good enough to give these magnificent speeches that rallies the empire, that rallies the world, there’s hope for you, so he became a boyhood hero. And later, as I got a bit older and realised that I liked telling stories and lies so much that I want to be a writer, I thought one day I want to write about Bertie, but I’d no idea what.”

Every year David returns to Aotearoa for several weeks to visit his son Manu, to fish, to reflect and write. This he does in his custom built cabin on Māori land near Taupo.

At the whanau home in Taupo he has been working on his next two big projects; the ‘book’, or script, for a Broadway show based on singer Carley Simon’s autobiography ‘Boys In The Trees’, and a major, six-part  television  documentary series ‘The Death Project’.

The latter will investigate how well the people of the western world are prepared for death. This may have something to with his age; David turns 80 this year (but he has no intention of retiring).

He says, “My father died sadly, badly, angry, and ultimately frightened. When I got home that night I was very disturbed by it and I thought no, no, no, this is not the way to go. I will not do this to my children and I will not do it to myself.  But then, after all these years, what progress have I really made. Because it’s not accessible in our society, we don’t have shamans’, there are mentors but how do you find them?”

One way is to seek out indigenous voices including Māori, “I have been able to speak with a few of the Māori elders who have been very generous and forthcoming and I hope to do in-depth interviews. One of the sections of one of our programmes is on the Māori attitudes towards death and of course one of the things I’m fascinated by is the duality in the Māori thought that is the departed go on up to the cape in the north part of the island and they go off to Hawaiiki. The prayers are made and basically it’s on your way in peace and there’s no need to return, go! But on the other hand the ancestors