A Cut Above

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Fourteen years ago, Jai Waite dived into a wave on a beach in Greece and hit a sandbar, becoming paralysed from the chest down, and with only limited function in his arms and hands. Now, as production editor at Attitude Pictures, he’s twice won a prestigious Apollo Awards for his work editing for Attitude documentaries – using his knuckles.

How does one find the words to describe this kind of irony: if it wasn’t for the devastating accident that deprived Jai of his ability to walk, he might never have found the profession for which he has so much passion, and which led him to winning the most prestigious award for his craft in the Asia-Pacific region – as well as an Olympic medal.

At the same time one is tempted to ponder just what special quality there is in the atmosphere in the postproduction suite at Attitude Pictures’ rather nondescript building in Auckland’s Grey Lynn – in the year between Jai’s 2014 and 2016 wins, the same Apollo award for long-form editing was taken out by another Attitude staffer, Bill Toepfer, for Living with Parkinsons.

While the Apollo Awards are regarded as highly prestigious throughout the Asia-Pacific region, I for one don’t recall taking any notice of them until I read the report of Jai’s second win there in ScreeNZ. The Apollos consider material from a huge variety of languages and cultures ranging from China and India to NZ, from Egypt to Tonga and Samoa, thus covering a much larger population than that of North America and Britain.

The organization behind the Apollos has described them as “An initiative aimed at honouring the best in production and post-production across the Asia-Pacific, focusing on the creative and technical mastery behind scenes.” There are now 20 awards – none for actors or other on-screen performers, but ranging from direction and cinematography through to animation, both 2D and 3D. Many of the awards, like Jai’s and Bill’s for editing, are divided into long form and short form, and between fiction and non-fiction.

Jimmy Wants A Job

Watch: Jimmy Wants A Job

The first time he was nominated in 2014, for Jimmy Wants a Job, in which 22-year-old Jimmy gives a personal insight into how he processes the world and what it’s like ‘living on planet Asperger’, Jai attended the award ceremony. The first inkling he had that he might actually win was when someone came up to him beforehand and said quietly, “Sorry, there’s no ramp onto the stage, so if you should win then just come up to the edge of the stage and we will bring it to you.”

Not having realised the scale of these awards until he arrived there, this was also the moment that made him understand that his award was not based on any form of pity for a disabled person – it was judged solely on craft.

When asked if he had gone through the typical pattern of grief, anger and resentment before eventual acceptance after his accident, Jai says he came to the realisation relatively quickly after his accident that life was still for living. There was the two-year period of feeling stuck in limbo, when the possibility of recovery still existed – but of course that ended. Rather than stages, he remembers turning points – such as the moment where he suddenly began to think not of what he couldn’t do, but rather what he could do. Para-sports was one of those things. After a period of feeling lost when friends had moved on overseas, suddenly he was one of a group of mutually supportive people striving for similar goals.

Having concluded that life was to be grabbed at every opportunity, it was probably not surprising that he went for the sport regarded as the roughest and toughest in the para-sport world – wheelchair rugby, which despite its name is actually based more of a combination of basketball and American football (gridiron).

Jai went at it full-time, training every day, finding his niche in the game as the equivalent of a rugby fly half (first five-eight). Testing had revealed that his style of learning was visual, rather than aural or kinaesthetic (through repetitive movement). He discovered he had the ability to read what was happening over the whole court visually, and was a good communicator. So he found himself in the role of orchestrating the patterns of play, particularly in screening and blocking, allowing and making space for the ball-carriers to move up the court. When people saw his skills and enthusiasm developing, any pity disappeared and was replaced by enjoyment and support.

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