My Secret Wellington: Robin Greenberg, film maker, shares her favourite Capital spots

Robin Greenberg - Her film Return of the Free China Junk is in the NZ International film Festival.
Maarten Holl/FairfaxNZ

Robin Greenberg - Her film Return of the Free China Junk is in the NZ International film Festival.

As a young girl, Robin Greenberg's dreams used to play out like a movie, each one a visual story unfolding as she slept. It's unsurprising then that she became a film maker, graduating from San Francisco's Stanford University and turning dreams into celluloid.

Greenberg's latest film, Return of the Free China Junk charts the journey of a traditional wooden sailing junk from a California boat yard where it was destined to become firewood, to Taiwan. The boat had been the subject of Greenberg's preceding film The Free China Junk, which followed the adventures of six novice sailors from amidst martial law in Taiwan in 1955 to San Francisco.

Five Taiwanese sailors were joined by the US Vice Consul of Taiwan to make the crossing in what Greenberg describes as a youthful adventure by completely inexperienced sailors.

"They were intending to join a boat race from the US to Sweden, which was how they got permission to leave the country, only their crossing took so long they missed it. This film explores the political backdrop of that trip."

The 80 ft long vessel took four months to reach San Francisco. Three of the sailors stayed in the US and three returned to Taiwan. The boat ended up in private hands - but was later abandoned - and was months away from being cut up for firewood when a daughter of one of the sailors began a campaign to save the boat. Says Philadelphia-born Greenberg, who has lived in Wellington for 20 years: "This is a story about the next generation, what they do to honour the people they love, how they honour their past."

It took five years, a lot of logistical wrangling and a good dose of political intervention to bring the boat back to Keelung, a port north of Taipei where it originally set out from. There to meet it were three surviving members of the crew who set out on that epic trip to America 57 years ago.

"Everyone was quietly delighted and deeply moved that the junk could be brought home to be appreciated by future generations," Greenberg says.

Return of the Free China Junk, part of the New Zealand International Film Festival, screens at Nga Taonga Sound and Vision, August 4 at 12pm

Where do you go to feel inspired?

I believe that we all have the capacity to go within for inspiration. As my T'ai Chi teacher and the New Zealand star of my film, the late Mr. Loo-Chi Hu QSM, demonstrated and shared in his life-time, practicing T'ai Chi daily can be helpful on many levels, including relaxing the mind. For me this state of well-being can open up a wellspring of inspirations. But on a more mundane level, I find that just being near the ocean or listening to music can have a similar effect. 

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What art/artist/performer has best captured your sense of Wellington?

I'm in awe of the work of master carver Rangi Hetet and his late wife master weaver Erenora Puketapu-Hetet and their whanau of the Hetet School of Maori  Art. And this relates to my next documentary which is now in production. 

What's your favourite public space?

I've long had a fascination with the design of public spaces. In Wellington, I feel that Civic Square is the most successful in that it's welcoming and vibrant, with a good balance of nature and interesting architecture.  It also provides some shelter from the wind, which means one is able to relax more comfortably -- it's not just designed to walk through.  I do hope that Wellington City Council will retain the astroturf which is currently in Civic Square.

Where do you go for a night out with your partner or a friend?

As a working parent, a night out is an all too rare luxury these days. But one of my favourite spots is the Hop Garden for its lovely relaxed environment replete with vines and skylights and excellent food and staff too.

Best pick for a cheap and cheerful meal?

I really enjoy the atmosphere, superb food and friendly service at Sweet Mother's Kitchen. 

Where do you go for good coffee?

Wellington has so many awesome cafes and coffee it's hard to choose. But Havana on Tory Street and Prefab Cafe are amongst my current favourites. 

Where do you take out of towners when they're visiting?

The Dowse Museum, Pataka Art Museum and the Botanic Gardens are usually high on the list.  

Describe your perfect Saturday/Sunday?

My perfect weekend is having no plans at all and leaving space for spontaneity.

What's your favourite neighbourhood haunt?

Zaida's for its great food/baking, family history and calm atmosphere -- and the Southern Cross for its wonderful ambience, food and fabulous outdoor area. 

What's your favourite place for a walk or to get into nature?

Walking along Oriental Bay, wind or no wind -- and the Mt Victoria loop of the Town Belt.  We are fortunate to have such a wealth of options to enjoy nature right on our Wellington doorstep.

What's your favourite shop?

I love Lush on Lambton Quay.  I first discovered Lush when I was working with the United Nations in Colombo, Sri Lanka and was happy to find it had arrived in Wellington upon my return. The fresh cosmetics are creative, environmentally-friendly and inspired, as are the cheery staff.  

The NZIFF - July 24 – August 9

 - Stuff

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