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Sunday, June 13, 2010

SIFF SIGHTING: THIS WAY OF LIFE (documentary; New Zealand)

Peter and Colleen Karena had very different upbringings: Colleen was part of a family that listened to her opinions, valued her perspectives and taught her to talk things through; Peter was raised in a sort of dictatorship with his resentful stepfather at the helm. Now as a married couple in rural New Zealand, they resolve to offer their many children a utopian childhood, complete with wild horses (the family business), church on Sundays and two parents completely devoted to them.

This Way of Life offers a glimpse of modern people who have chosen to live simply as our great-great-great grandparents may have. They live off the land, kill their food (strictly for nourishment; not for sport) and pitch in collectively to complete the cooking and cleaning chores. Dad also works to make money to pay their taxes. Respect for one another, the land and the animals they share the space with is emphasized and quite frankly, they just seem like really, really good people.

But Peter's stepfather, the owner of the home and land they live upon (though they've paid the mortgage for years, apparently) thinks otherwise. Bitter because Peter challenged his authority as a youth, this old curmudgeon sells the house out from underneath them (they didn't make it to the auction house in time to bid) and then makes their lives a living hell in the months that follow. All of this is captured brilliantly and beautifully by director Thomas Burstyn.

During this tumultuous time, Colleen has another baby (a daughter, Salem) and the family becomes technically homeless. But do they let it break their spirit? Absolutely not. And that's why this film is so inspiring—though I may never desire to live life as primitively as this family chooses to, I have a great admiration for the values they're teaching their children.

They lead by example: they do good things by being good people and sticking by one another no matter what life throws their way. If only everyone had this presence and peace of mind, the world would be a better place.

THIS WAY OF LIFE screened at the 36th Annual Seattle International Film Festival.

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