In 2012 I retired again and we are traveling in Europe. In 2009 Ron and I retired and we volunteered at Quaker Meeting House in Wellington, New Zealand for a year.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

July Film Festival

The second half of July was the Wellington International Film Festival. This has become a pretty big event, especially since New Zealand has been developing its own film industry. However, being NZ, it is not a glitterati event. It was the main thing that occupied our time after Yearly Meeting. We saw eleven movies over twelve days in the festival and one other movie that month. So the rest of this blog will be short descriptions of the movies. Some are pretty obscure and some probably have already been released in the USA. The pictures are film related, although not necessarily about films we saw at the film festival.

The first movie we saw was not part of the festival but was shown at the National Film Archives, another great resource here in Wellington: "The Rainbow Warrior Conspiracy". While this not a particularly well made film, the real life story is terrific, and one of the turning points in modern NZ history. Apparently there is a much better film called "The Rainbow Warrior" with Sam Neill and Jon Voigt.

We went to the opening night showing at the film festival of "Bright Star", directed by Jane Campion, who also introduced the film. It is a beautifully made story of the love affair between John Keats and Fanny Braun, and also the friendship and working relationship between Keats and another, much lesser poet, Charles Brown. As Fanny tries to educate herself to understand Keats poetry, the audience is also drawn into its beauty and rhythm. Of course, the movie ends sadly with Keats' early death from TB. Instead of music during the credits, the Keats character recites "Ode To A Nightingale", which certainly kept me in my seat.

The next movie was also very well made. Called "Firaaq", it examines the after effects of the communal violence in Gujarat in 2002. Hundreds of Muslims were killed in rioting in retaliation for a presumed Muslim attack on a Hindu train. The film follows a number of different people of varying backgrounds along intersecting story lines, trying to put their lives back together, living in fear, seeking revenge, justifying violence, hoping for peace, racked with guilt. It is disturbing, and not very optimistic about breaking the cycle of violence.

"Our Beloved Month of August" was a very quirky film from Portugal. We went because it was supposed to have lots of music. Indeed, the story follows a family of musicians traveling among various small town festivals in the mountains of Portugal, singing pop/traditional love songs. I felt like I could feel the heat and smell the dust and pine trees. It reminded me of summer fairs in Oregon and Ontario. But it is also about the making of the movie. Every once in a while there is a break, and the producer comes in to complain that the director is not following the plot, or he hasn’t cast some of the characters, or some such thing. Then lo and behold, some folks show up to audition, and then they appear in the story, which now continues along its plot line. Over the ending credits there is a very funny argument between the director and the sound engineer about sounds that have magically appeared on the tape.

On my own, I went to "Birdwatchers", an Italian/Brazilian film about the Guarani Indians of the Amazon. Aroused by a rising tide of suicides among their young people, one tribal leader takes a group to try and reclaim some of their land outside the reservation, even though the forest has been cut down and the land plowed into farms. More and more people join him. The other plot line follows one young man who is learning to be a shaman. Unfortunately, the story doesn’t end any better than most stories about the fight for indigenous rights; although the credits do tell us the fight is still on going.

Ron went to see The "Baader Meinhof Complex", which he said did a good job of showing the conditions that led them to form a terrorist organization. It also showed the downward spiral that resulted from using such violent tactics.

Again on my own, I went to see a collection of short NZ movies. They were ok. The funniest/scariest was "Careful With That Power Tool" about a kid who finds a nail gun while exploring his dad’s workplace. No one was harmed in the making of the movie, but I had to close my eyes at some spots.

The most disappointing of the big budget movies we saw was "In The Loop". It is a fictionalized version of concocting the evidence in Great Britain to justify the invasion of an unnamed country by the US. Perhaps our problem was that we really needed subtitles to understand all the various British accents. Although since every other word was f**k, maybe it wouldn’t have made a difference. Much of the satire about politics was spot on.

"Unmistaken Child" is a really interesting documentary about trying to find the reincarnation of a deceased Tibetan lama. The person charged with searching is his young disciple, who clearly misses his master very much. He is also quite uncertain of his own ability to discern his reincarnation, although he seems quite satisfied in the end. Indeed, the transfer of his affect to this new child is quite sweet.

"Theater of War" is a great documentary about the staging of "Mother Courage and Her Children" in NYC in 2006, with commentary from Meryl Streep and Tony Kushner, among others. The most interesting footage, however, was from the original production in Berlin after WW2. I learned a lot about Bertolt Brecht and the play.

Another lovely period costume drama was "Cheri", starring Michelle Pfeifer. It is based on two novels by Collette about a Belle Epoch courtesan. Ready to retire, she takes up with the 19 year old son of a colleague. They are both so used to a world where love is for sale that they don’t recognize the depth of their own affections for each other until after they have irrevocably split up. There is a very annoying and intrusive narrator in order to drive the cynicism home.

The top New Zealand film that we saw was "The Strength Of Water", which had an introduction by the director and the screen writer and a panel discussion afterwards. It is a leisurely story about ten year old twins. The sister dies in an accident, but the brother continues to see and interact with her until they are both ready to let go. It is a lovely film.

That was the last film we saw together. Ron also went to see "Balibo" about five Aussie/kiwi TV journalists who were murdered in East Timor while covering the Indonesian invasion in 1975. No one has ever been prosecuted for their deaths.

Thursday, August 13, 2009


On Saturday August 1 we got up about 5 am to get on a plane to Auckland to then get on a plane to Rarotonga for a mid-winter break. The second plane flight was about 3 and a half-hours long and got us there mid afternoon on Friday July 31! Crossing the International Date Line is such fun. We were greeted by a shuttle to our hotel and given leis, which was a nice touch. We stayed at the Palm Grove Hotel on the south side of the island. We had a nice A frame bungalow with its own kitchen. There is a small swimming pool and a nice beach across the street facing onto a wide lagoon. We arrived just in time for their Friday night happy hour with live music – a lady singer and a male guitarist/singer and electronic drums/background music. Most of the songs were rock/pop/country classics. Some people loosened up to sing along to the chorus.

The next day being Saturday all over again, we got to go to the Saturday market in Avarua, the capital of the Cook Islands. Besides the many stalls with pareus (sarongs) and other clothing, and produce, there was also a dance and drumming troupe performance. They do a nice style of fast hula in the Cooks, especially for the men, and sometimes the women also do a slower one. We also just wandered around the town getting oriented, and did some supermarket shopping, so that we ate most of our lunches as picnics and dinners in our bungalow.

The weather was not as hot as we expected, mostly I would guess around 70 F, but with a steady wind that made it seem cooler. It was also cloudy the first two days and rained occasionally, but I am not complaining. Anyway, it made us not want to swim, and I was glad I had packed some long pants and tops. However, the weather cleared up for the last two days.

Rarotonga is a volcanic island about 31 kilometers in circumference. The mountains are quite steep, and are obviously collapsed calderas. It is very green, and does not seem to have a dry side like some of the Hawaiian Islands do. There are a number of hikes up to various mountaintops or across the island, but as they all involved scrambling, muddy & slippery trails, and sometimes ropes, we decided not to try them. We did walk to a small waterfall at the beginning of the cross-island walk. In fact, we walked a lot everyday, mostly on the beach, but sometimes on the inland road. I was impressed by the small and tidy market gardens of the interior. In fact, most of the produce in the stores seemed local. One day we managed to walk 10 kilometers going east. The lagoon widens out there and includes some small islands and people wind surf and wind board. I don’t know if that is the proper word, but the person is on something like a snowboard and is being pulled by a large kite. Going west, we walked probably 5-6 kilometers, so you can see that there is a lot of beach. Luckily, they have a good bus system, so we could go as far as we wanted and hop on a bus to return. They come every half-hour, one going clockwise, the other counterclockwise.

We went back to the main town on Monday – the rainiest day we were there. It has two museums, for some reason, although they seemed somewhat redundant. They were interesting, but only about as sophisticated as you would expect for an island of a little over 20,000 people. The museums help to point out what a huge effect the coming of the missionaries had on the island culture. We went out that evening to a resort that was having an “Island Night,” with singing and drumming. Ironically, it turned out to be the same troupe we had seen for free at the Saturday Market, but it was still fun.

So Rarotonga seemed, from our brief experience, to be a very pleasant and sane tropical island. None of the resorts we saw were extravagantly plush, nor did we see any obvious poverty. Most of the islanders seemed to speak Maori among themselves, which was nice to hear. We had a very nice vacation. Plus, now that we are back, the worst of the cold, wet weather seems to be past, and it is feeling almost Spring-like!