The Past Awaits: Migrant Histories and Multidirectional Memory in the Cinema of Vincent Ward

  • Allen MeekEmail author


Michael Rothberg has argued for a model of “multidirectional memory” in which the histories of slavery, the Holocaust, and colonialism enter into dialogue and make possible new forms of political solidarity. The films of Vincent Ward provide a useful example for considering Rothberg’s arguments in the New Zealand context. As a Pākehā New Zealander, he has directly confronted the violence of the colonial past. In Rain of the Children (2008), Ward returned to uncover the history of persecution and exile that shaped the lives of Puhi and her son Niki, the subjects of his first film In Spring One Plants Alone (1981). The destruction by colonial forces of Rua Kenana’s isolated community at Maungapohatu in 1916 and its impact on the lives of those who survived the raid is embodied in Puhi’s and Niki’s social marginality in the 1980s. In his two autobiographical books about his films, Edge of the Earth (1990) and The Past Awaits (2010), Ward explains how his emotional attachment to Puhi is related to his own family history, which includes his mother’s experience as a Jewish refugee. Ward’s films and books reveal an attempt by a Pākehā film-maker to define an identity through the traumatic history of Māori, but in a “multidirectional” sense linking it to other histories of catastrophe such as the Holocaust. This essay considers the ways that Ward’s attempt to articulate a post-colonial, post-Holocaust identity is bound to a narrative of colonial trauma.


Vincent Ward Colonial trauma Multidirectional memory New Zealand film Film Cinema Māori Migrant Settler Native 


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© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Massey UniversityPalmerston NorthNew Zealand

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