REVIEW: When you think of important films you don’t normally think of small-budget New Zealand productions aimed at children.
Normally you think of films about heavy issues such as The Grapes of Wrath, Schindler’s List or Hotel Rwanda. Yet this week I’ve been thinking a lot about the importance of a little film made right here in Nelson called Kiwi Flyer (G).
Directed and co-written by Nelson-born and bred filmmaker Tony Simpson, Kiwi Flyer is about Ben, a 12-year-old boy, played by Edward Hall, who dreams of winning the Nelson Trolley Derby in honour of his late father.
Standing in Ben’s way are his mother Karen, played by Tandi Wright, who doesn’t want him going anywhere near the derby, the Worthingtons, a family of cocky Aussies who will stop at nothing to win, and a pint-sized loan shark.
Kiwi Flyer is a colourful film full of warmth, innocence and humour. The film practically glows with goodwill and is a virtual love letter from Simpson not only to the town where he grew up but to childhood itself.
Like a well-designed trolley, the screenplay by Simpson and Andrew Gunn zips along and is packed with the kind of gags kids love and that adults who don’t take themselves too seriously will enjoy. The story follows the tried and true underdog-battles-adversity formula while still finding time for a little romance and a lesson on the importance of friendship.
Acting-wise, Kiwi Flyer is a mixed bag. The talent ranges from awesome to amateurish which is hardly surprising given the budget and the number of volunteers involved. Hall does well as Ben, Wright makes an appealing Karen, Vince Martin is terrific as the dastardly Mr Worthington and Dai Henwood is very likeable as Ben’s teacher Mr Lumsden.
The most impressive performance, though, comes from newcomer and local lad Myer Van Gosliga as Ben’s would-be nemesis Shannon Worthington. Watching the emotional conflict that Shannon wrestles with play across Van Gosliga’s face was one of my highlights of the film. And while, as I said, some of the other acting leaves a little to be desired, it doesn’t actually matter for the simple reason that Kiwi Flyer is a kids’ movie and kids love hammy, over-the-top performances.
According to its producers, Kiwi Flyer is the first children’s film to be made in New Zealand in 27 years. When I think of the number of very average films that taxpayers have funded over that time, this strikes me as nothing short of a scandal. The fact Kiwi Flyer is the first New Zealand kids’ film in more than a quarter of a century alone makes it an important film. What also makes it significant, though, is the fact it is not set in space or in another dimension or 150 years ago. Kiwi Flyer is about Kiwi kids right here, right now. At a time when record numbers of people are leaving Aotearoa for life in Australia, the value of a film like that is huge.
If our children are going to grow up to be adults who care enough about New Zealand to want to stick around and help make it a better country, then they need opportunities to bond with the place. They need to see what is good about New Zealand celebrated and one of the best places you can do that is on the big screen. The way I see it, the more kids see films like Kiwi Flyer, the fewer future grown-ups will treat New Zealand as a launching pad for lives in other countries. And from where I’m sitting, it doesn’t get much more important than that.