A debut documentary that tells a big Ngai Tuhoe story, this film is perhaps most remarkable for being by a German-born filmmaker who had been here less than four years when she shot it. Curious and intelligent, Grohnert captures much about Ngai Tuhoe - the people and the land - that eludes local non-Maori observers.
Ostensibly it's a film about the planning and construction of Te Uru Taumatua, the building at Taneatua for which the phrase "community centre" is pitifully inadequate: the whare hou, opened in March last year, ticked dozens of sustainability boxes to become New Zealand's first accredited "living building".
We watch the building take shape at hui, round-table meetings and on site. But Grohnert sees and shows us so much more.
The patient visual style - scenes unfold in (and sometimes just out of) long establishing shots with a tripod-mounted camera - lends it a tranquil, even sleepy, rhythm. Better still, Grohnert and editor Prisca Bouchet resist the temptation to constantly seek narrative resolutions.
The storytelling approach kept reminding me of the way the piwakawaka frolics around the bushwalker, darting in and out, picking up what it can, constantly scouting ahead and behind. The filmmaker seeks to serve, not dominate, the viewer.
Occasionally, as a result, magic happens: in one scene, pakeha team leaders tell Tuhoe workers that they will "do whatever you want us to do" but their tone is hectoring and condescending, and they seem not to notice when several workers turn their backs.
The film does not shy away from conflict and misunderstanding, but its gentle observational tone is enchanting. It's an impressive little film that deserves attention. And the building's pretty damn cool, too.
Verdict: Patient and enchanting.
Director: Sarah Grohnert
Running time: 90 mins
In English and Maori with English subtitles
- NZ Herald