Go Film’s James Croot reviews Song of the Kauri – he gives the film ★★★1/2 stars

Hard on the heels of Pete Young’sThe Last Ocean, New Zealand’s much vaunted environmentally friendly image takes another hit with this sensitive and sensible look at our missed forestry opportunities.

Historical crimes against our native flora are aired, as Central Otago film-maker Mathurin Molgat’s (previously best-known for acting in mad 1987 Ski-wi docudramaThe Leading Edge) documentarySong of the Kauri proposes that kauri could become New Zealand’s currency in the new world of green economics.

But while critical of our founding fathers who destroyed almost all of our native forests (one academic describes it onscreen as one of the worst crimes in Anglo-Saxon history) in quest of recreating their British rural idyll and producing pastoral farming land (this may not be Fonterra’s movie of the year), Molgat appears at pains to point out that those who came before us are neither heroes nor villains – it’s about what we do now. And interestingly that isn’t the traditional ‘greeny’ protectionat-all-costs viewpoint. Foreign invaders and climate change mean we can’t just leave native forests alone, the film argues, we have to practise good pest control and money will have to be found.

Advocating for a national forest policy, the likes of Nietzsche-quote investor George Kerr and Kauri author Keith Stewart believe New Zealand has never had a culture of forestry – “just cutting trees down”. Kerr in particular thinks “New Zealand hasn’t found the balance between economics and its soul”, while others think we’ve lost our fabled No 8 wire mentality and that our focus on pinus radiata as an export is economically and environmentally flawed.

But at its heart, Song isn’t a political or environmental polemic, rather its a celebration of all things kauri – from its spiritual links to its sheer majesty and its ability to be transformed into triumphs of musical instrument design.

Luthier Laurie Williams’ work, from the art and science of felling a tree (Molgat employs a chainsaw cam to get us right into the middle of the action) to the beautiful, “sustained” sounds the finished guitar produces, is showcased and while it slightly muddies and slows the focus of the film (particularly a sequence at an overseas musical festival) it does graphically portray the kind of added-value product that can be created from a kauri.

Reviewed by James Croot

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Mathurin has been involved in the New Zealand film industry since 1985. Song of the Kauri is his documentary directorial debut and he has surrounded himself with a stellar cast of uniquely talented people who are all impassioned by this project and share a common vision to tell this story. More about Mathurin

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