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RIP Paul Swadel

Producer, director, and educator Paul Swadel has died.

Paul Swadel produced several shorts during his career, from Zerographic, the first short from director and writer Glenn Standring (The Dead Lands, the upcoming 6 Days, McLaren), through to Christian Rivers’ Feeder, which premiered last year.

At Elam School of Fine Arts in 1994, lecturer John Fairclough introduced Paul to James Cunningham.
Paul was directing short film A Little Death. Cunningham recalled, “I was pulled in to produce life scale B&W prints of the frozen moment that traps the lead actor, Jed Brophy.”

Paul introduced James to the film industry, as he would many others over the next 20 years. “In him,” Cunningham said, “I found an incredible creative partner. Without Paul I never would have made my first short film. I never would have then made Infection, and we never would have taken that film to Cannes and Sundance. He made it all seem possible.”

Paul’s other short-form creations included award-winning music videos and TVC work. His 2000 short film Accidents won a Jury Prize at the world’s most prestigious shorts fest, Clermont-Ferrand. As a producer and/or director, Paul also created a strong suite of docos including his own Colin McCahon: I AM, TV series The Big Picture, and Gerard Smythe’s When a City Falls.

In 2009 Cunningham suggested to Paul that they make another short film, Poppy. “I think it took me about five minutes to convince him,” Cunningham said. “I have great memories of working together on the motion capture set and editing the film together. I learnt so much from Paul on that film. That was the film that really showed us what we could achieve together.”

Before Poppy, Paul worked with Leanne Saunders and Ant Timpson as Headstrong, producing low budget features The Devil Dared Me To by Chris Stapp and Gregory King’s A Song of Good.

Later Paul worked as a development executive at the NZFC, where he was an integral part of the team that created the Commission’s low-budget feature scheme, Escalator.

After leaving the Commission, he and brother Marc’s Davey Darling was shortlisted for Escalator’s 2012 round. Marc said this weekend, “Perhaps Paul’s biggest legacy is in education and mentorship. There would be few professionals in NZ production who had not met, worked or studied with Paul at some stage over his career.”

Whilst working at Waikato Polytechnic, Paul helped develop the Bachelor of Media Arts course. His work with the NZFC in development, his work as an EP, and his time teaching all helped develop others’ careers. His partner for 17 years, Kirstin Marcon, called him “a defining influence” on her development as a filmmaker and said today, “He was an inspiring person to live and work with.”

With Steve Barr and Daniel Story, Paul formed EP pod Blue Harvest, executive producing a number of the NZFC’s Premiere Shorts. His final position was lecturing in film at Media Design School, where he reunited with Cunningham.

Following the announcement of Paul’s death, Cunningham said, “Paul was an unstoppable moving force with boundless energy, not just for his own projects but for those around him as well. If you earned his trust and respect he was a loyal and dedicated collaborator and friend.”

Paul was diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia, which causes significant changes in people’s behaviour. Aged 47, Paul passed away on Friday 18 March, surrounded by family in his hometown of Christchurch. His funeral will take place at 10am on Thursday 24 March, at John Rhind Chapel in Christchurch.

His family has asked that people consider donations to alzheimersresearch.org.nz in lieu of flowers.

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1 Response

  1. Graham

    That is so sad to hear. I was one of those greatly influenced by Paul at Waikato Polytechnic as a student, then worked alongside him for a bit while there, and even had the pleasure of him as a creative and energetic flatmate. I interviewed him a few years later as an example for young filmmakers in how to get out there and market your work and the creativity and energy still flowed from him in waves. A brilliant fire extinguished too soon.