Barret and I were at the Paramount Cinema for our last film at the New Zealand Film Festival. While the nuns on stage lead the theater in a prayer, I finished up my chocolate covered black cherry cone. Ice cream at a movie theater was both delicious and novel and curiously satisfying even though it didn’t last very far into my movie going experience. Although, I have to admit that my bag of popcorn never usually makes it past the opening credits either.
Even though it wasn’t the films opening night, there was a big audience and we could tell the filmmakers were nervous. How Far is Heaven was the only documentary Barret and I had chosen from the festival and it definitely made the experience more interesting when we realized that some of the people from the film were in the audience. Nuns included.
Two little girls were sitting next to each other inside their church’s activity room. The girl on the left was holding a doll when she looked over her shoulder at her companion.
“This is my baby. I don’t love the daddy no more.”
As if on cue, her friend asks where the father is.
“He’s in jail,” the little girl responds. “He hit me and I didn’t like that.”
While the little girl’s friend gave a naughty smile and continued asking questions, I sat quite smugly in my seat. I have read up on social issues, earned a college degree, traveled the world, and seen more episodes of Intervention than I could shake a stick at.
So as I watched this playtime discussion, I pitied the girls. It only took a second in my mind to condemn their parent’s ability to raise children and judge the lack of education. I also compared those two girls to the children I taught in Korea and to my own childhood, in which that kind of talk felt more foreign than Mars.
I’m also fairly certain I wasn’t the only person in the audience that felt that way. Even the nuns on-screen had locked themselves in their prayer room and asked God to help them not pass judgements on others.
Several more minutes of playful dialog lapsed before the two girls became bored with their play. As a last thought the girl on the right asked her friend, “what is the daddy’s name that you don’t like no more?”
The girl on the left looked down at her doll and gave it a rough stroke.
She paused a moment longer. “Tiger Woods.”
While her friend giggled the audience burst out in genuine laughter.
The filmmakers Miriam Smith and Christopher Pryor must be made of a better cloth than both the nuns and I because their film reveals life on a quiet rural bend of the Wanganui River without judgement and clichés.
Instead, the story about the tiny community of Jerusalem and the three nuns who run the church is both quirky, amusing and rewards the viewer with the unexpected. It is the kind of film that reminded me that without preconceptions you open yourself up to surprises and the nuances of life.
Kudos to Smith and Pryor for a wonderful film.
How to get to the Paramount: 25 Courtenay Place Wellington 6011, New Zealand
About: How Far is Heaven