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Earth Whisperers/Papatuanuku

Film reviewed by Dorothy - 08/06/09


Director Kathleen Gallagher's latest movie is an interesting and moving work. Expecting a film such as Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth working its way through issues in a linear progression, I was initially unprepared for the impact of this film coming at its subject matter from a more open, wide angle than the dialectic of documentaries created around narration.

On the second viewing that I appreciated it more as it was surely intended, as glimpses of the beauty of Aotearoa/New Zealand artistically interwoven with natural up-close filming of individuals imparting their attunement to the natural environment of their country.

The camera skilfully takes us across significant landscapes and finds these folk in places to which they feel connected. Acclaimed cinematographers Mike Single and Alun Bollinger artfully capture the power of New Zealand landscapes in each context. One can watch and listen from a place of absorption, carried along by the reverential and haunting themes of Richard Nunn's music. We are taken into the place where people and nature meet with a positive dream, taken close to sensing the spiritual connection with the earth, the goddess Papatuanuku as known to the Tangata Whenua (people of the land).

Beside this we also encounter through the recollections related to us the extraordinary effectiveness of New Zealanders committed to preserving and caring for the uniqueness and power of the Aotearoa natural environment.

In Earth Whisperers there are ten sections in which the commentary is presented by ten different people each outlining their view on ways to preserve the beauty and the nourishing power of Earth in its pristine state.

The film opens its message with a quotation from New Zealand artist Colin McCahon.

You bury your heart
and it goes deeper into the land
you can only follow,
it's a painful love
loving a land
it takes time
a long time

A Maori karakia (incantation) is followed by people entering a remote area on foot – the only possible access.

The words of Sir Edmund Hillary are quoted on screen.
Nature needs time for growing and sleeping,
Wilderness areas where nature can develop
In its own calm way
Where only humans who walk go.

Rita Tupe
Rita Tupe
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Rita Tupe, a healer from the Tuhoe tribe, is shown pulling wild plants for nourishment and stresses the need to avoid waste, even using the roots. As a child her family had ample food. People must work together in every aspect of life to heal the land, she says.

She gives thanks to Tane Mahuta – the guardian spirit of the forest.

Craig Potton
Craig Potton
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Craig Potton is the second speaker. He walks slowly through the forest, honouring its natural quiet. He tells of the twenty years of protests against logging in the Paparoa area and of young enthusiasts who made protest their whole occupation and were supported by donations. The press gave support to the cause. The protests ended with the preservation of the forest and the formation of the Paparoa National Park in the northern part of the South Island's West Coast.

The song of tui and other birds reinforces his statement that the area has the highest bird count in the country.

Isla Burgess
Isla Burgess
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Herbalist Isla Burgess stresses the value of herbs in promoting people's wellbeing. She believes that for each person there is a plant that brings special benefit. For her it is stinging nettle that gives special nourishment. The dandelion plant and root are rich in nourishment and beneficial in treating a range of digestive problems. She urges us to learn about common plants like chickweed which are easy to find and not underestimate their usefulness, and rather than destroying such plants to consider their well-being.

Alan Mark
Alan Mark
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Botanist Alan Mark in speaking of the eco-system talks of the calm of plants and of characteristics not commonly recognised, like the ability of tussocks to conserve water and the varied characteristics of mosses like the moss pictured on a fallen log in the beech forest.

From beech forest he goes on to talk about the powerful protest movement that blocked the raising of the water level of Lake Manapouri which was planned to increase the power output from the power station there in order to supply the huge demand for power for the Tiwai Point aluminium smelter. The Labour Party came to power in the 1972 election, winning a lot of support because they opposed the raising of the level of the Lake and the subsequent destruction of large areas of beech forest.

The influence of groups like Forest & Bird was a factor in the formation in 1990 of the World Heritage Area in South Westland – 2.6 million hectares – 10 % of the area of New Zealand.

Gerry Findlay
Gerry Findlay
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Bird caller Gerry Findlay tells of the function of birds dropping seeds and soil on bare moraine which resulted in the growth of a shallow rooted forest. When this was felled by the wind a second generation of stronger forest developed. His bird calls attracted birds and we hear the tui giving its final song for the day – a message to other birds that the time for song is over.

Hugh Wilson
Hugh Wilson
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To introduce Hugh Wilson's story of the development at Hinewai on Banks Peninsula the sound of a waterfall and a beautiful shot of the water glinting in sunshine set the scene. He describes the run-down gorse-infested farm and the opposition of the farmers in the area who believed that developing pasture was the only proper use of the land.

Given the opportunity nature fosters spontaneous growth. The kanuka which was the only type of tree to be seen on the farm at first has populated the land and the gorse has been overwhelmed. Other natives have sprung up and a varied forest offers shelter for birds and opportunities for people to walk the tracks.

Another fundamental belief which Hugh has demonstrated in his lifestyle is that the use of the car is detrimental to the environment and to those who travel in it. The trip by bicycle to Christchurch takes five and a half hours – time well spent in his view.

Jim O'Gorman
Jim O'Gorman
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Organic farmer Jim O'Gorman has developed his garden at Kakanui in North Otago. In two years he changed the hard unproductive ground to nourishing soil by digging in what others would term weeds and rubbish. He has encouraged his neighbours to deliver to him their "woody waste". He deplores that fact that dumps in New Zealand are 65% filled with "green waste". Using only hand tools he has created a garden that produces five crops each year. He challenges the idea that retaining weeds is detrimental to the crops as the weeds require different nutrients from the soil.

Charles Royal
Charles Royal
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Charles Royal, Maori chef and food gatherer, is filmed walking through the bush. He demonstrates how to get ready nourishment from native plants by eating a piece of supplejack, an edible vine readily available in most areas of New Zealand, and brewing tea from horopito, a plant with heart-shaped leaves that benefit the heart. He stresses the need to gather only what we need and avoid waste.

Kay Baxter
Kay Baxter
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Kay Baxter's deep concern relates to the quality of seeds. She was shocked to learn that all our seed is now imported from Holland. She was concerned about the effect of nuclear radiation from Chernobyl. With Mike O'Donnell she started a walk aimed at rousing interest in the saving of old types of seed. This developed into a full hikoi and they walked from the far North to Taupo, staying at the Marae and exploring old garden sites. They travelled by car south to Wellington and met with members of the Green Party in the grounds of Parliament.

For 25 years she has grown food from old seeds and the fruit of old orchards.

Makere Ruka Te Korako
Makere Ruka Te Korako
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Makere Ruka Te Korako, author of "Whispers of Waitaha", a kuia (woman elder) of Waitaha iwi takes us into her vision of stewardship for the environment and special connection with traditional local places of spirit such as the mountain found near her home in inland Canterbury (Whitecliffs).

Makere reflects on her vision of healing through growing community within the ways of Waitaha. She shares directly her feelings about connection and the way ahead, standing in the outdoor place where she hopes future community will flourish so that those who are at present children (mokopuna) and grandchildren will experience and grow from immediate connection with spiritual and practical dimensions of this environment.

The result is a film worth watching with a thought provoking message especially attuned to the thinking of many viewers at this time.

Visit the official website for "Earth Whisperers/Papatuanuku" from Wick Candle Films.



 
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