Inspiration found at Michael King house

1 January 2015

Vincent Ward, left, and Professor Daniel Fleming

Vincent Ward, left, and Professor Daniel Fleming

Collaborating: Kiwi director Vincent Ward, left, and Professor Daniel Fleming from Screen and Media Studies worked together at the Michael King house this summer.

While most of us were enjoying beaches and barbecues over the summer break, Professor Daniel Fleming, from the University of Waikato's Screen and Media Department, was hard at work on a TV drama series with famed New Zealand film director Vincent Ward.

Working hard over summer

Professor Fleming and Ward spent time over the Christmas break at the University's Michael King house on the Coromandel Peninsula. There they worked on the episode treatments of a series on Heinrich Himmler, one of the most powerful men in Nazi Germany and co-architect (alongside Adolf Hitler) of the Holocaust.

"We're particularly interested in his inner circle - his personal masseur, his young daughter, his clerical assistant, and his head of intelligence. We see events through their eyes and come to understand why people did the things they did at the time, things that are often thought of as beyond understanding," says Professor Fleming.

The University of Waikato bought Michael King's house in Opoutere, near Whangamata, after he and his wife Maria Jungkowska died in a car accident in 2004. King did much of his writing at the house, and the university bought it with the intention to use it as a retreat for staff.

Professor Fleming enjoyed working at the house, and likened his experience of working with Ward to being a student again himself.

"Vincent is one of New Zealand's leading film directors – his first feature film Vigil is one of the aesthetic cornerstones of New Zealand cinema – so working with him was like going back to film school for me," he says.

Professor Fleming has long admired Ward's work, with his book Making the Transformational Moment in Film: Unleashing the Power of the Image an interpretation of Ward's films.

Professor Fleming also says that Michael King, who was one of New Zealand's most prolific historians, would have been interested to see his and Ward's project take shape.

"One of the characteristics of Michael King's work was his ability to communicate outside of the confines of academia. He believed passionately that history as a subject should be concerned with public understanding, and I'm committed to the Himmler project with Vincent for that same reason."

Michael King's association with the university began in the late 1960s and the 1970s when he completed his Masters and PhD. He was a fellow of the Department of History in the early 1990s and was the writer in residence in 1994. Eight years later he returned as a senior fellow in history. He was awarded an honorary doctorate in 2002, and had been working on a history of the university when he died in 2004.

House used as a creative retreat

Professor Fleming is proud to continue the tradition of King and other university staff who have used the house as a creative retreat. "There's something about the feeling that other people have done serious work there, there's something encouraging in the atmosphere."

And there was time enough to relax, too.

"The view over the Opoutere estuary is stunning, and we rewarded ourselves after work with walks across the estuary at low tide – which was so refreshing we often did more work when we got back to the house. Dinners of fresh mussels and wine also helped!"

Bookings for the Michael King house can be made through Accommodation and Conference Services. When bookings relate to "approved academic activities" (as approved by Deans) the rental of $75 per night is waived and only the service fee of $40 per booking is charged.