The hunt gives us life

This Way of Life

It’s winter, and no matter where you are in New Zealand, it’s film season. From human rights to homosexuals, the environment to sweet stories of love and survival, you best find yourself in a theatre at least once. The next wave is the forthcoming New Zealand International Film Festival, kicking off in Auckland during July and travelling nationwide till November.

This year’s lineup includes a stunning, homegrown feature called This Way of Life. Shot over four years, it’s an intimate portrait of Peter and Colleen Karena and their family. Though European, Peter was adopted into a Maori family and is Maori in all but skin. The family lives by an internal code of values and honour largely lost in modern times.

The film follows the family in the wilderness of New Zealand with six children and 50 horses through amazing trials: coping with a miscarriage, the thrill of the hunt, and the destruction of the family home through arson. The Karenas unite their philosophy with their circumstances, turning hardship into a meaningful and satisfying life.

This story comes to us from Cloud South Films—Barbara Sumner Burstyn and Tom Burstyn, also responsible for last year’s acclaimed One Man, One Cow, One Planet that made the rounds at film festivals worldwide. Entirely self-funded, This Way of Life digs deep into the psyche and question our modern way of living.

This Way of Life began following a neighbouring family in Hawke’s Bay. “It was supposed to be a story about breaking in horses, but became an epic about a man’s family and the profound philosophy they were living,” says Sumner Burstyn. “Through the process, we experienced a family that has created happiness through their relationships with each other, their land, and their horses.”

There’s an expectation that filmmakers should be above their subject matter and observe from a distance. The Burstyns don’t agree. “If you’re looking to make something deep, meaningful, and intimate, you have to dig down deep and be willing to get involved with the subject matter,” says Sumner Burstyn.

This Way of Life

While the subject matter was often emotionally challenging to follow, being a small Kiwi filmmaker is equally difficult. “It’s hard to self-fund,” she says. “The reality, though, is you become a film-maker by making the film. It’s so easy today, the technology democratises the process. You don’t need to have anyone else’s help.”

The other key to success is a vision for what you want to achieve. “You have to have a vision; a story to tell is essential. As you tell the story, something much larger emerges. In this film, the people are very connected with their lives, not distracted or modulated by technology. It doesn’t make them primitive. It makes them more connected to what’s real in life. I think it’s what makes this story so real to people.”

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