Co-directors Chris Pryor and Miriam Smith spent a year living with the community at Jerusalem/Hiruharama on the Whanganui River.
Jerusalem is where Suzanne Aubert established The Sisters of Compassion order over 100 years ago. Today, only three nuns remain.
Through four seasons, the film follows the community and especially the journey of Sister Margaret Mary, the newest Sister to Jerusalem and a regular volunteer at the local school.
Through the nuns’ engagement with the local community, especially their relationship with the children, we see the complexities of life in Jerusalem. There is a mix of Christian and Maori spirituality, where people only really go to church for Midnight Mass at Christmas, and yet prayers to both God and the taniwha are the everyday norm. Jerusalem seems to be a place where there is great joy in the simplicity of life, yet all the while there are dark undertones that hint at the poverty and harsher realities in the small community.
Everyday life is seen mostly through the eyes of the children, which makes for some fascinating insights. The children are asked what their dreams are; their replies are fairly simple- be a woodcutter, kill a pig, go to Australia to visit. While Sister Margaret Mary encourages them to dream bigger (finish high school, go to university, get jobs outside the area), its clear that for many of the kids, life both now and in the future, is in Jerusalem. It begs the question, do they plan to stay because they love the village or because they don’t know anything else and are ill equipped for life in the ‘outside world?’
Pryor’s brooding cinematography shows this part of Whanganui at its finest. Coupled with an emotive and haunting score by Rachel Shearer, it matches the rhythm and mood of the village through the seasons and mirrors the flow of the river itself; sometimes languid and gentle, sometimes forceful and destructive.
This is a beautifully reflective and challenging film, raising many questions about the nature of faith and life in Aotearoa today.
Review by Martin Barratt
Director: Christopher Pryor and Miriam Smith
Rating: M (offensive language)
Genre: NZ Documentary
Duration: 1hr 39mins