“A bold and beautiful film“– New Zealand International Film Festival
From August 27 New Zealand audiences across the country will have the chance to enjoy The Strength of Water, the debut feature film by award winning NZ director Armagan Ballantyne.
The film premiered in July at the NZ International Film Festival and has gone on to receive seven nominations for the Qantas Film and Television Awards.
Penned by acclaimed playwright and arts laureate Briar Grace-Smith The Strength of Water is the story of ten-year-old twins Kimi and Melody. They live happily in an isolated Maori community until the arrival of enigmatic stranger, Tai, precipitates an accident which forces them apart. This story of growing up, surviving difficult times, and becoming stronger for it, is set in the haunting landscapes of the Hokianga.
In 2006 Briar and Armagan travelled to Utah to workshop the script at the Sundance Directors and Screenwriters Labs. Robert Redford read the script, sat in on several rehearsals and gave Armagan and Briar valuable insight on how to develop the script further. This is Grace-Smith’s first feature film script.
The film has already struck a chord with overseas audiences at film festivals in Rotterdam, Berlin, Trondheim, Cannes, Seattle, Shanghai, Sydney and Brisbane. The film’s NZ release on August 27 coincides with the Canadian premier at the Montreal International Film Festival. In October the film will screen in Haifa (Israel), Ghent (Belgium), Mill Valley (US) and Hawaii.
For the two young lead actors Hato Paparoa (Kimi) and Melanie Mayall-Nahi (Melody) the film was their acting debut. They were cast separately and had never met before until the first day of rehearsals when, unbeknownst to everybody, they found out they were cousins!
Alongside Hato and Melanie are experienced NZ performers Jim Moriarty (The Waimate Conspiracy, The Returning) and Nancy Brunning (What Becomes of the Broken Hearted, Crooked Earth). Nancy is widely regarded as the leading maori actress of her generation. She has previously collaborated with Briar Grace-Smith in several notable theatre productions including Haruru Mai and Purupurawhetu. Nancy was also the acting coach for Taika Waititi’s Oscar-nominated short film Two Cars One Night.
Most of the younger cast members are not trained actors. Pare Paseka’s teacher at Point England High School sent a photograph of her to Casting Director Suzanne McAleer; Shayne Biddle’s mum cut out and gave him an auditions advertisement from her local Gisborne newspaper; Isaac Barber was spotted in a line-up waiting for work on a road gang in South Auckland, and Armagan Ballantyne saw Denise Proctor, who plays Nan, on Maori TV’s talent quest Maorioke.
The majority of The Strength of Water was filmed in the far North of New Zealand, in the Hokianga area, around the settlements of Panguru, Mitimiti and Pawarenga. Some scenes were filmed at West Auckland’s Bethell’s Beach and Anawhata.
In creating the fictional community of Te Pari as the setting for The Strength of Water, writer Briar Grace-Smith described a place she had never actually seen. It wasn’t until she visited Panguru in the Hokianga that she realized this was the place she’d written about. “I was worried, though, about setting a film there because as far as I knew my people, although from the north, weren’t from that area, so I went to see my uncle. He told me that Hokianga was the place our hapu (subtribe) originally came from, we migrated from there. He told me it was absolutely right the story should be set in that place, he said ‘think of it as a mihi (salutation) to that place we came from, the great Hokianga’.” says Briar Grace-Smith.
The Te Rarawa iwi (people) of the area worked closely with the filmmakers, particularly kaumatua (tribal elders) Joe Cooper from Panguru and Malcolm Peri from Pawarenga, who both fully embraced the film. “All these coincidental things that happened made everyone feel that this was probably the rightful place” says Peri.
The Strength of Water is a New Zealand-Germany co-production, made by producer Fiona Copland’s New Zealand company Filmwork (best known for producing Harry Sinclair’s Topless Women Talk About Their Lives and The Price of Milk) with Karl Baumgartner of Pandora Film in Frankfurt, who is co-producer with Raimond Goebel. Baumgartner has produced more than 60 films, including features by Emir Kusturica, Jim Jarmusch and Aki Kaurismaki. The Strength of Water is distributed in Australia and New Zealand by Hopscotch Films.
* We are looking forward to watching The Strength of Water ~ And please write a review if you are fortunate enough to see the Strength of Water.
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“The whole film is unflailingly subtle and beautifully shot – a story of bonds, community and heart, Strength of Water is achingly raw and not to be missed” – Darren Bevan (tvnz.co.nz)