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Welby Ings on Sparrow

In this podcast writer and director Welby Ings talks about his new short film Sparrow.

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In this 27-minute podcast recorded on a sunny day on the Wellington waterfront in New Zealand, writer and director Welby Ings is interviewed by Gareth Watkins about their new short film, "Sparrow". The film delves into the relatively unexplored territory of desertion, suicide, and the experiences of gay men during World War II, topics which are often omitted from mainstream narratives of war to maintain an image of heroism. The film is particularly poignant as it draws from a true yet undocumented story within Ings' extended family.

Ings describes learning about a great-uncle who was brought back from the war and placed in a psychiatric institution after attempting to desert. This discovery unveiled a hidden narrative that contradicted the official family story, which honored them as a war hero. Ings discusses how such psychological ailments as shell shock, now recognized as post-traumatic stress disorder, were denied acknowledgment after the war, leaving affected servicemen stigmatized or hidden in the shadows of mental institutions.

Ings faced the challenge of bringing this closely held, personal family story to the screen. Rather than producing a documentary that might prove invasive for the family, Ings chose to portray the narrative as a poetic short film. "Sparrow" tells the story of two lovers in the war, its tragic developments, and how it reshaped the family history. Ings discusses the significance of the family's invented narratives, indicating how these were used to replace the truth with a more socially acceptable version.

The recording dives into the making of the film, revealing the extensive preparatory work and hundreds of drawings that were needed to capture the depth of emotion behind the story. The film, having no spoken dialogue, amalgamates the wartime story with an aspect of Ings' childhood, linking the two themes with the metaphor of a sparrow cared for by the soldiers.

Despite the film's artistry and importance, Ings reveals the difficult process of financing the project. After being rejected by the film commission, funding was eventually secured through an academic award, a university grant, crowdfunding, and a robust demonstration of public support.

Ings underlines how "Sparrow" has resonated with international audiences across various film festivals, even in places that carry a complicated relationship with their own wartime history. The filmmaker also touches on the broader subject of societal acceptance of LGBTQ+ stories and the ongoing presence of homophobia, discussing how diversity is often commodified rather than truly embraced.

"Sparrow" ultimately not only highlights a hidden chapter of war but also nods to the humanity and acceptance within a group of soldiers under extraordinary circumstances. It stands as a testament to the personal sacrifices and painful truths that often go unrecognized, as well as the broader challenges faced when telling such stories.

This summary is created using Generative AI. Although it is based on the recording's transcription, it may contain errors or omissions. Click here to learn more about how this summary was created.

Record date:3rd March 2018
Interviewer:Gareth Watkins
Location:Wellington, Aotearoa New Zealand
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Archive:The master recording is archived at the Alexander Turnbull Library (OHDL-004524).