Friday, 15 July 2016

Poi E: The Story of Our Song: NZIFF Review

Poi E: The Story of Our Song: NZIFF Review


Director: Tearepa Kahi

There's no denying the electricity of Poi E: The Story of Our Song.

At its world premiere at the start of the New Zealand International Film Festival, the Civic Theatre audience was clearly in the mood to enjoy a slice of Kiwiana.

And to all intents and purposes, Tearepa Kahi's simultaneous salute to a generation growing up and to the eminence of Dalvanius Prime achieves what it sets out to with exuberance and insight.

But as a non-Kiwi not versed in the 1980s trappings of beige stubbies, A&P shows, BYC and long hot summers, perhaps some of its intricacies and significance didn't land as they should and it may not travel as well internationally.

That's not to decry what Kahi's done and the hard work that's been put into the making of the film.

It's a documentary blast of nostalgia that is extremely well-crafted with interviews from the original Patea Maori Club as well as various people offering insight like The Topp Twins, the members of the club, Taika Waititi and Stan Walker et al.

There's plenty of humour and vitality around as well in the simplicity of the interviewees from the heartland of New Zealand and Patea itself. It's fair to say the film's a celebration and does much to set the scene for the birth of the Poi E song and the growth of the club which to some degree appears to rise stronger when the local freezing works closes.

And in the centre of it all, is Dalvanius Prime, a chihuahua loving, larger than life visionary who clearly blazed a trail for Patea but who didn't come to it willingly at the start. Using archive interviews, current day footage and super 8 film stock, Kahi's crafting of Prime's story and the subsequent ripples his influence had on the music scene are vibrant and entertaining.

Audio interviews and a very first ever recording of the inception of Poi E give the film an intimate authenticity that adds both to its veracity and its cinematic vitality. Coupled with Kiwis being Kiwis on screen and the natural characters of the heartland coming through, the film's portrait builds nicely both of Prime, his influence and his legacy.

But a quick brush over Dalvanius' death seems to deny the man the full implications and explanation of his story for those non-versed with him or who didn't grow up here. Though one can understand the desire to keep this upbeat and there's no denying that 30 years on, the song's still New Zealand's legacy.

But in many ways, Poi E: The Story of Our Song is more than just a documentary piece about a song and cultural icon that's lasted over 30 years - indeed a footnote adds the club meets every Monday, and Auntie Bib says you just need to bring a plate. (An example of the disarming and charming moments infused within this film by Kahi)

There are hints of politics within and contempt for Maori and small town New Zealand that shine an unhealthy light on New Zealand in the nicest possible way, as they bubble away in the background. It's never Kahi's MO to keep this anything other than feel-good and all the audience projection and feeling of the time will come simply from the authentic way it's all been laid out.

It's hard not to feel anger when Prime's attempts to attend a Royal Gala at the Queen's behest are greeted with a resounding No from all quarters, leading him to mortgage his home. Likewise, the closing of the freezing works is presented as a harsh community reality but Kahi's at pains to show how the community (like so many around Aotearoa) rallied to the call.

Cheekily ending with a claim that many know the chorus but not the words before presenting the song's lyrics via animation and a montage of performances, Poi E: The Story of Our Song leaves with a joyous earworm in your heart and a smile on your face, even if you may be less versed in some of the more nostalgic moments.

As well as the NZIFF screenings, Poi E: The Story of Our Song hits nationwide cinemas August 4th

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