'Poignant' Aranui High School documentary commemorates achievement and loss
A documentary series about the history and final days of Christchurch's Aranui High School hopes to "give a voice" to the community adjusting to its loss.
In the three-part web series Te Tonga o Te Ra (The Setting Sun), filmed over three days at the end of 2016, staff and students shared their memories and reacted to the school's closure.
After 56 years, Aranui High was shut on December 15 to make way for Haeata Community Campus. Aranui Primary, Avondale and Wainoni schools were also closed.
Director Ana Mulipola said she had no relationship to Aranui but was passionate about telling Maori stories and knew the high school could not afford to do so.
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"I thought, this is a story that has to be told. I wanted to give hope to the community as well as they embark into the unknown."
What started late November as an amateur undertaking with handycams, cellphones and a volunteer crew became a professional production when sponsors stepped in and career cinematographer Kirk Pflaum donated his time.
"Because of the quality of his filming, we just had to raise the bar," Mulipola said. Other professionals were then hired to help complete the project.
Not intended as a political backlash against Aranui High's closure, the film nonetheless evoked frustration, anger and heartbreak felt by the school's community, she said.
With all the positive news surrounding Haeata, she wanted give voice to Aranui High's "poignant" experience.
"There is the other side of the story that's the grief of the community, their feelings about being ignored and their history not being respected.
"The staff were very stoic throughout the process [but] they have great concern about the welfare of their students going forward."
Malcontent over the loss of the school's resources, memorabilia and newer buildings became apparent, as did disappointment Aranui was closing at the peak of its academic achievement.
Former Head of Music Jane Herman felt students' needs weren't prioritised in the transition to Haeata, a year 1-13 school modelled on notions of collaborative learning.
"[Aranui High] is the sort of place where you build up relationships with the kids and families with years of trust. It [Haeata] is backward to what I have always learned, that you look at what's in front of you first."
She said the school had historically been strong in sports and performing arts, pioneering individualised learning styles now preferred by the government out of necessity, because its students struggled with classroom learning.
Producer Esther Rogers said shutting a school could also close off its past.
She hoped the documentary would allow the community to grieve, lift the "stigma" attached to Aranui High and show it in a new light.
"It was sad because the school was closing but it was also lovely to hear how it's impacted different people.
"I think it [the series] is something that's special for the community and they can all look back on this and relive it."
Now being edited for a February release on YouTube, the production team are trying to raise $5000 by January 15 to save the series from being self-funded.
But the project's potential drove them to complete it despite difficulty fundraising during the holiday season.
"This is a community telling stories that otherwise wouldn't have been told," Rogers said.
"If one person can enjoy what we have done it makes all the hard work worth it."