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The Road to Jerusalem

A powerfully realised map of James K. Baxter's life, works and times

The Road to Jerusalem (New Zealand, 1997)

Production Company: Morrison Grieve
Producer: William Grieve
Screenplay: Paul Millar, Bruce Morrison
Featuring the words and works of James K. Baxter
Photography: Swami Hansa
Editor: Ken Sparts
Sound: John Patrick
Music: Keith Ballantyne

Best Documentary 1998 Film and TV Awards

With: Jacqui Baxter, John Baxter, Millicent Baxter, Terence Baxter, Brian Bell, Colin Durning, Noel Ginn, Sam Hunt, Mike Minehan. Readers: John Callen, Simon Carr, Michael Hurst, Damien Lay, Barry Saunders, Annie Whittle

DV, Exempt, 75 minutes

The Road to Jerusalem impresses on many levels. Discarding the wad of literary treatise and the sensationalist media reports, Morrison gives us the man in his, and his family's and friends', own words. The past is tied to the present, as Morrison shows us the contemporary reflections of Baxter's experiences and observations. His journey is given shape, allowing us to identify with his struggle, to see him as neither prophet nor pauper, but as a man driven and open to his own spirit. Most vivid of all are the words from Baxter's widow Jacqui who recalls, with undiminished incredulity, the mixed blessing of life with a prodigy; and son John, articulately expressing what it was like to live in the shadow of a frequently absent, famous father. The Road to Jerusalem accompanies Baxter's words with images which give them a sense of place in the landscape. With a bag of beautiful tricks only rarely used for their own aesthetic sake, Morrison's camera captures with a poetic eye the stations of Baxter's journey – the child in Brighton, just south of Dunedin, the student and poet of Otago University, and the humanist of India and, finally, Jerusalem. Across all this stream the words, with their lyrical vigour and relentless urgency, emphasising that this was a man who not only lived to write but wrote to live. “— MA, New Zealand International Film Festival Programme 1997

“Directed by Bruce Morrison and produced by Morrison Grieve, the 74 minute documentary The Road to Jerusalem also screened, in its world premiere, to an enthusiastic packed house at the Civic Showcase. The film was conceived by Morrison when, on tour with Sam Hunt, he was inspired by Hunt's idea that you could navigate your way around New Zealand using James K. Baxter's poems as your guide. As well as providing that initial spur, Hunt advised Morrison on which of Baxter's poems are pivotal. Following advice from Baxter's wife Jacqui, Morrison expanded that initial concept to include not just the landscape but the era, as seen through Baxter's eyes. In this the filmmaker was helped by the work of Baxter scholar, Paul Millar, who drew up a chronology of the poet's life using Baxter's own words. The result is a powerfully realised map of Baxter's life, works and times, in which personal family insights sit easily alongside the broader picture. The film does not attempt literary criticism, nor is there any pretension to placing Baxter in any kind of hierarchical New Zealand literary canon. Importantly, too, this is no hagiography - Baxter comes across as flawed and human - but due homage is paid to his spirit and his genius for all that ... Beautifully shot and edited, without doubt the documentary is destined for a long life." - Helen Martin. 'New Zealand at the '97 Festival', MIC Journal

Screenings: The Road to Jerusalem screened on 19 & 20 March 2010 in a programme honouring the late JC Sturm (aka Jacquie Baxter).