Mt Zion (PG) 92 mins
In a small country with a small film industry, whenever someone manages to clamber over the many obstacles and tell their tale on a big screen, we tend to celebrate. We make allowances, because we're seeing one of our stories. And, yes, Mt Zion does have its flaws, but the drive to overlook them becomes even stronger because here we have that increasing rarity, an affectionate, cheerful, feel-good story that doesn't venture anywhere near gangs, drugs and violence. But it does have a lot to say about potatoes.
Opening with a beautiful slow shot of a potato-picking gang in the Pukekohe fields in 1979, writer-director Tearepa Kahi tells his story with sympathy, passion and some moments of genuine humour. It's a fairly straightforward coming-of-age tale, interwoven with the message that family comes first, in which young Turei must weigh his dreams of music fame - and in particular, winning a contest to play the support slot to the touring Bob Marley - against the importance of his home life.
Kahi used his grandparents' own home and the local marae as settings and relied upon family oral history, while the decision to pivot the movie around Marley's visit was inspired by footage of a contemporary TVNZ interview with the singer. All of that helps, because I bet for most audiences that passion will outweigh the rest. So yes, the scripting might have been tighter, and there were holes in the plot if you looked hard enough.
The casting is interesting. Pop singer Stan Walker makes his acting debut in the lead (with hours of makeup over his tattoos) and while he certainly carries the musical interludes, he struggles to convey Turei's emotional turmoil. But the support cast take up the weight - the experienced David Wikaira-Paul as his bassist and another debutant, Northland musician Troy Kingi, as Turei's older brother Hone are good and the dependable Miriama Smith takes the female lead with aplomb.
But the undoubted highlight is Turei's eight-year-old nephew Toko, and he pops up in the final scene, which is both a brilliant piece of film trickery and a heartwarming moment.
- Sunday Star Times