This NZBC religious programme goes where TV cameras had never gone before: behind the walls of the Carmelite monastery in Christchurch. There, it finds a community of 16 Catholic nuns, members of a 400-year-old order, who have shut themselves off from the outside world to lead lives devoted to prayer, contemplation and simple manual work. Despite their seclusion, the sisters are unphased by the intrusion and happy to discuss their lives and their beliefs; while the simplicity and ceremony of their world provides fertile ground for the monochrome camerawork.
Growing up in one of New Zealand’s many convent schools before they were reordered by the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s, was an experience many found tough. This documentary explores the stories of the girls who endured the nuns’ strict rule, including interviews with Ginette McDonald, Moana Maniapoto and painter Jacqueline Fahey, plus some of the nuns themselves. They discuss discipline, education, their thoughts on becoming nuns and how despite all the rules, they wouldn’t have changed it for the world.
Gardening with Soul follows four seasons in the life of irresistible gardening nun Sister Loyola Galvin. Director Jess Feast (Cowboys and Communists) unearths sage gems from the nonagenarian on everything from compost to Catholic Church sex abuse scandals. The cycles of Wellington’s weather are charted via its influence on Loyola’s Island Bay garden, from the 2011 snow to flax-drunk tui. Feast worked with editor Annie Collins to piece together a paean to a life lived with zest and compassion. Soul won the Best Documentary at the 2013 Moa (NZ Film) Awards.
The Whanganui River settlement of Jerusalem had a moment in the national spotlight when poet James K Baxter lived there in the early 70s — but it is home to a long established Māori community and the Catholic order of the Sisters of Compassion (since 1892). To make this documentary, Miriam Smith and Christopher Pryor spent a year in Jerusalem, following the lives and interactions of the nuns and the Ngāti Hau. North & South called their observations of a world of co-existing contrasts — Māori and Pākehā, young and old, secular and religious — “a cinematic treat”.
One of the founding directors of Raconteur, a Christchurch-based film and television production company, Bill de Friez is an experienced documentary maker. Alongside Raconteur, De Friez teaches film at Canterbury University, School of Fine Arts.