Vigil (film)

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Vigil (film).jpg
Film poster
Directed by Vincent Ward
Produced by John Maynard
Written by Vincent Ward
Graeme Tetley
Starring Penelope Stewart
Frank Whitten
Bill Kerr
Fiona Kay
Gordon Shields
Music by Jack Body
Cinematography Alun Bollinger
Edited by Simon Reece
Release dates
  • May 1984 (1984-05)
Running time
86 minutes
Country New Zealand
Language English
Budget $2 million

Vigil is a 1984 New Zealand drama film directed by Vincent Ward. It was the first New Zealand film invited to play in the competitive section of the 1984 Cannes Film Festival.[1]

The film was nominated for awarded three awards at New Zealand's GOFTA Awards in 1986: Best Cinematography (Alun Bollinger), Best Original Screenplay (Vincent Ward), and Best Production Design (Kai Hawkins).


11 year old Toss lives on a remote farm in a valley somewhere deep in rural New Zealand with her father, mother and grandfather Birdie. When she witnesses her father’s death while out herding sheep, she is shocked to see another man present, who then carries her father’s body out of the bush. When the new man, Ethan moves onto the farm and begins a relationship with her mother, Toss sees him as an invader into her isolated world.


  • Penelope Stewart as Elizabeth Peers
  • Frank Whitten as Ethan Ruir
  • Bill Kerr as Birdie
  • Fiona Kay as Lisa Peers (Toss)
  • Gordon Shields as Justin Peers


Vincent Ward spent five years making Vigil, from pre-production to completion.[2] Part of this was a lengthy pre-production process which involved him visiting hundreds of schools throughout New Zealand, looking for the right actor to play Toss. Similarly, Ward travelled all over New Zealand looking for a perfect setting before finding the isolated farm in Northern Taranaki where filming eventually took place.[3]


Upon its release Vigil polarised critics although generally it was reviewed positively. One particularly negative critic, Robert Brown of The Monthly Film Bulletin, criticised the film for its “irritating music-and-effects track” and said it offered “grand themes [...] but without any notion of how they connect in reality”.[4] Others however offered far more favourable reviews. The Los Angeles Times described Vigil as ‘a film of elemental beauty and growing tension’. The Washington Post gave a positive review, saying “In Vigil, Ward gives us imagery that plays like blasted poetry’ while The Guardian called it “a work of astonishing, original force [...] the most distinctive New Zealand film ever to reach Britain.”[3]

Notably, Vigil was the first New Zealand film to be selected for competition at the Cannes International Film Festival. The film received a standing ovation.[4]


  1. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Vigil". Retrieved 2009-06-23. 
  2. ^ "Vigil". New Zealand Film Commission. Retrieved 11 June 2015. 
  3. ^ a b "Vigil". NZ On Screen. Retrieved 11 June 2015. 
  4. ^ a b Martin, Helen and Sam Edwards. New Zealand Film: 1912-1996. Oxford University Press, 1997, p. 106.

External links[edit]