Miriam Smith and Christopher Pryor
(out of 5)
In terms of difficulty, one of the toughest documentary
tasks is setting out on a journey without a concrete idea of
what you hope to achieve.
Though, as Hoop Dreams proved, sometimes a sniff of an idea
is enough to yield magic.
First-time film-maker Miriam Smith and cinematographer
partner Christopher Pryor embedded themselves for a year in
the isolated town of Jerusalem/Hiruharama with a goal, to
document three Pakeha nuns working within the tight-knit
Maori community of less than 50 people.
Just gaining the trust of the locals to spend this amount of
time there would have been no small feat, but without such
devotion to their craft, the film-makers would have struggled
to get anything with substance on screen.
The oddity of three Roman Catholic sisters continuing in the
tradition of a mission that started in 1892 is quirky, but
possibly not enough to hang a film on, especially when two of
the three barely feature. That leaves Margaret Mary, an
optimistic new arrival to the mission who sets about trying
to teach the children music and life skills.
It's the children who are the trump card. Their wide-eyed
exuberance for computer games, underage driving and hunting,
is solemnly balanced with the harsh reality of a small
community dealing with poverty and domestic abuse.
The Once Were Warriors realism is never critiqued as
the film disappointingly side-steps any serious questions.
Smith and Pryor show a keen editorial eye for nuance, but a
general unwillingness to upset their hosts.
Best thing: the non-judgemental feel that the
film-makers bestow on their subjects.
Worst thing: failing to really address what relevance
the nuns and their belief systems have to the community
See it with: no urge to be anywhere else.
By Mark Orton.