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”.
Act of Kindness follows the search for one very helpful man, in a country of 11 million people. In 1999 Kiwi Sven Pannell arrived penniless in Rwanda, after bribing himself out of a worrying encounter with rebel militia in Burundi. He was saved by a street beggar who spoke perfect English. Eight years later Pannell got the chance to return to Rwanda with camera in hand, and say thanks — if only he can track his saviour down. Directed by Pannell and Costa Botes (Forgotten Silver), the documentary is a portrait of compassion, obsession, and a nation recovering from tragedy.
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.
This often confronting documentary observes a Māori restorative justice model through the eyes of straight-talking Mike Hinton, manager of Restorative Justice at Manukau Urban Māori Authority. The bringing together of victims (including wider whānau) and offenders may offer an alternate way forward for "a criminal justice system failing too many and costing too much”. Restoring Hope kicked off Māori Television’s 2013 season of Sunday night documentaries. In a Herald On Sunday preview, Sarah Lang argued it was “enough to restore hope in local documentary-making.”
A party of returning raiders hauls a massive waka taua (war canoe) through dense Waitakere bush, driven by their brutally insistent chief towards safety. Two water-boys are crouched in the bow. One of them risks a bold act of compassion — towards the trophy prisoner tied to the stern. The impressively-produced portage has echoes of Werner Herzog movie Fitzcarraldo, but the story is palpably Māori. Directed by Tearepa Kahi, Taua won Best Short at National Geographic’s 2007 All Roads festival, and was selected for the Berlin, Rotterdam and Clermont-Ferrand festivals.
Greenstone Productions are prolific and award-winning makers of observational reality shows (The Zoo, Border Patrol, Coastwatch). This series saw their cameras go behind the scenes of Wellington Hospital's Emergency Department, to showcase the skills and compassion of medical staff as they treat patients ranging from lost diver Rob Hewitt and a near-fatally inebriated man, to the ubiquitous broken bones and beads stuck up nostrils. The 12-part series won the Best Observational Reality (non-format) Award at the 2007 Qantas Television Awards.
This excerpt from the 22nd episode of Kiwi literature series The Write Stuff features unionist and peace campaigner Sonja Davies (1923 - 2005). Davies had just released Marching On, the follow-up to her acclaimed 1984 autobiography Bread & Roses. Presenter Alison Parr asks Davies about her experience in Parliament, as well as personal tragedy and gardening. Davies reflects on achieving change, her dislike for the aggression of the debating chamber, and the values her grandparents taught her: "compassion and responsibility, caring for others more than you care for yourself …"
Richard Turner made Squeeze to break the "conspiracy of silence" about homosexuality. A pioneering early portrait of Auckland's LGBT scene, Squeeze centres on the relationship between a young man (Paul Eady) and the confident executive (Robert Shannon) who romances him, then mentions he has a fiancée. The film was discussed in Parliament after Patricia Bartlett campaigned against the possibility it might get NZ Film Commission funding (it didn't). Kevin Thomas in The LA Times praised Squeeze's integrity and the "steadfast compassion with which it views its hero".
Cliff Curtis alternates a busy diet of acting in the United States (where he's forged a reputation as the actor to call on, for roles of varied ethnicity) with smaller scale New Zealand projects — including co-producing Taika Waititi smash Boy. His CV of Kiwi classics includes playing Pai's father in Whale Rider, Uncle Bully on Once Were Warriors, and bipolar chess champion Genesis Potini in The Dark Horse.
The career of pioneering documentarian Bill Saunders began in the early days of New Zealand television. He went on to champion a fly on the wall documentary style and win Feltex Awards for acclaimed films on Moriori, and the elderly. Saunders was the final remaining member of TVNZ’s documentary unit when it was disbanded in 1988, and an outspoken advocate of public service broadcasting until his death in 1995.