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Movie Review: Mt. Zion

Movie Review: Mt. Zion

What would you do to make your dreams come true?  

mtzionMt. Zion takes us back to the year 1979, where a group of Maori potato pickers work the farm in rural Pukekohe; the year is also significant in that Jamaican reggae superstar Bob Marley looks set to play his one and only concert in New Zealand.

Turei (Stan Walker) is the young dreamer, thinking beyond the potato patch and inspiring his cousins Reggie (David Wikaira-Paul), Pou (Darcey-Ray Flavell-Hudson) and his brother Hone (Troy Kingi) to think more about what music might do, could do for their lives.

Papa (Temuera Morrison) is the hard-working father.  He’s the one that makes sure the work is being done and that everyone gets paid.  (as a side note, what made us smile was seeing old NZ money being used when the workers got paid.  Who else remembers the old $1, $2 and $5 notes?)

The opening sequence is gorgeous as it takes the audience into the potato fields, working the land and then sets about building one of the strongest aspects of the film: the music.

Mt. Zion is the name of a small, corrugated water tank that sits on a hill where the boys wash themselves after a hard days work.  It is here they talk about music, dreams and life beyond the potato fields.  Mt. Zion is like a sanctuary away from the aches and pains of work, a place where anything might happen.  Well, according to Turei anyway…


We watch as the boys jump on the back of the truck and head home, singing sweet songs of melody and harmony, delivering bags of potatoes to elderly members of the community. This small act of koha, giving back to the people, will play a central role throughout the entire movie.

As the boys get home, we see a vibrant community filled with happy, laughing kids.  This is quintessential New Zealand in the 1970’s.   We also get to meet Toko (played by Te Rangi Kahi, the-then 5 year old son of Director Tearepa Kahi).

In the background, Turei just doesn’t seem to fit in.  You can tell he wants to be a musician but has to mahi with his papa in the potato fields.  I think it is here that we start to sense the tension between both father and son.  During his down time, Turei spends time carving Bob Marley into wood and talking to the record cover of Bob, asking questions of the Lion.  Many a young fulla can relate to this scene where some of us often talk to the spirit of people we love or admire, looking for answers and posing deep questions in the hope that some small revelation might be made, that a fire might spark through and illuminate the dark.

Turei and the boys head to the local pub and convince barmaid Layla (Miriama Smith) to let them take the stage and perform a song.  At first she seems reluctant but gives them one shot – it is this first performance that marks the group as an actual band, with Hone on guitar, Pou on the drums and Reggie on bass.  It signals to a local promoter that the band might have something special, which is great timing as a big announcement is about to be made…

That big announcement is Bob Marley is coming to Aotearoa and that a special talent quest would be organized to find the opening support act.  This is the moment Turei has been waiting for.

Now, we don’t want to spoil too much of the movie, as we truly believe many whanau across Aotearoa and Australia will take this movie into their hearts and make it their own.

What we can say is that it was quite amazing to watch Stan Walker act, and to hear Darcey-Ray, David, Tem and Troy all sing and play instruments.  It really did mix things up a bit.  We think the soundtrack of Mt. Zion will be in everyone’s collection and want to give special shout outs to Shane McLean for his amazing effort on the music.  Nga mihi nui.

It was wonderful to see and hear te reo Maori spoken throughout the movie.  It felt normal to hear both English and Maori and while there are translations provided, some kupu are left untranslated, so that the audience is not spoon-fed every single term and phrase.  To my untrained ear, te reo o Tainui was spoken and this could be heard in some of the waiata that are sung at the welcome home party.

Mt. Zion opens a small window into the challenges of rural families living during the late 1970’s; the hard labour, the precarious nature of such work.  It also highlighted the pressure put onto generations of Maori families that worked the land, only to be replaced by migrant workers.

I found 4 scenes in particular very poignant.  The first is around the koha and watching the names of each whanau be written down on the back of an envelope – something rarely seen on a movie but common practice on marae or at a hui.  The second was when Papa gets hurt and Mama (Ngawai Herewini) kicks everyone out of the room and starts to tangi over Papa. The shot of the hallway reminded me of the times my own mother would close the door and cry.  The third is when Turei and Papa are talking in the shed and a brief shot goes back to Mama standing inside, listening behind her white curtain.  The last scene I loved was when Turei tried to hide by putting a potato sack over his head, both as a way to hide his shame and as a possible reminder that he is as much a part of the potato, as the potato is a part of him.  Some people might find the movie slow in these parts but we thought they added time to think and reflect on what had just occurred.

The play of light and dark within the movie helped to accentuate the mood, whether it be the closed-in feeling that Turei experienced during those challenging times or when Mt Zion is bathed in golden light.  Another moment of subtle visual adjustment is when guitarist Booker D sparked his lighter in the darkness, reminding us of the lyrical flame seen in some of Bob Marley’s songs.

At a deeper level, Zion is significant to our whanau as it is the name of our daughter, Hiona, named after the famed round house of Tuhoe prophet Rua Kenana.  So when the boys started to sing “Maunga Hiona” our hearts lit up.  All throughout the movie, you will notice symbols such as the Star and Moon of the Ratana Faith, you will hear whanau prepare for the upcoming Poukai and to witness what happens behind the scenes of a powhiri, again something rarely seen in mainstream movies.  Maori culture felt normal in this film, which is a credit to Tearepa Kahi and his support team.

There are a number of cameos, and it might pay to check out the movie and also the credits, to see if any of your whanau or friends are involved.  We loved seeing our friend Russell Harrison on the stage (actually, he gave us a demo of his lines earlier this morning lolz), as well as King Kapisi as the security guard.

It was humbling to know that the marae, Nga Hau e Wha, had been featured in the credits alongside the actors, and it was cool to hear that many of the whanau from Pukekohe worked on the movie as extras, some bringing old clothes from their potato picking days.

We appreciated that the movie could be enjoyed by all ages – be it mokopuna, tamariki wanting to listen and sing, or rangatahi watching for inspiration and fun, or for our kaumatua, koroua, kuia who remember those days. 

It is a Maori movie where no one dies (which is a pleasant surprise), where the violence is limited to a few minor incidents and that even though it is a movie about Bob Marley, that marijuana is not glorified nor celebrated.

We believe that the Soundtrack of the film is amazing and when released (Friday 1st Feb) will be the ‘must-have’ album of the summer.

We loved to hear that the actual Bob Marley concert at Western Springs cost around $8 for a ticket and in the movie, that you could buy a hangi for $1.20!!  The entire movie had us laughing, actually.  The acting was so relaxed and authentic, the scenes looked like any place in Aotearoa and the humour had us in stitches.

So, what we came away with from Mt Zion was that one person can dream and that that dream can spark the catalyst for change.  It was heart-warming to understand that sometimes, our biggest dreams often start at home and that, much like the life of Bob Marley, that one person can inspire and influence a community, a nation, the world.  This movie is a long time coming and we feel that its time to shine is now.

We would like to thank Mt Zion publicist Sue May for inviting TangataWhenua.com along to the media screening.  We would like to thank Tearepa Kahi for sharing a movie that he said was inspired by his own life.  E te Rangatira, tena koe.  We would also like to acknowledge all the cast and crew, the support whanau and all who contributed to making this amazing film – kei te mihi manaaki ki a koutou.

Oh, and finally, Mt Zion will definitely bring back many of the old sayings we used to use back in the day, like “she’s all plaque”, “ne’mine yours ow” “whuuu/whaaa” and “chur!” with the eyebrow raise.  It is that kind of movie that transports you back into another time and place, yet has that feeling that everything is still so familiar.

All the very best with the Premiere Screening in Manukau on February 4th and please whanau, go out and tautoko this movie when it opens on February 6th – Waitangi Day and Bob Marleys birthday.  It will be a celebration for everyone.

Sharp and Ready!

 

 

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