How Far Is Heaven

How Far Is Heaven


Jerusalem. Aotearoa.

From Chris Pryor (cinematographer on Florian Habicht's early films) and writer Miriam Smith, an observational documentary about the Sisters of Compassion congregation who have lived in the remote village of Jerusalem / Hiruharama on the Whanganui River for 120 years. Today, only three nuns remain.... More

Jerusalem is the home of "powerful dualities": Maori and Christian spirituality, gang parties and prayers, pig hunting and perfume appreciation... Through four seasons, the film follows the community and in particular the journey of Sister Margaret Mary, the newest Sister to Jerusalem and regular volunteer at the local school.

Though perhaps most famous for poet James K. Baxter’s commune in the '70’s, Maori (Ngati Hau) have lived in Jerusalem for countless generations. In 1892 Suzanne Aubert founded the Sisters of Compassion order, the only homegrown Catholic order in New Zealand. Today the average residential population of the Jerusalem village is 30 people.Hide

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Flicks Review

It might not sound particularly racy but Miriam Smith and Christopher Pryor’s gently paced documentary about three Catholic nuns living in the remote village of Jerusalem (or Hiruharama) has a lot to offer. This is not just a story about the selfless work of the three sisters, who have embedded themselves in the small Maori community, working within the schools and alongside the locals, despite humble assurances they are there to learn themselves. It’s also an intriguing glimpse into a part of New Zealand where life unfolds at its own pace, at arm’s length from the wider world.... More

The kids, whose effervescent personalities light up the screen, are as much a focal point as the nuns. Whether it’s cheeky Damien, who deserves his own sitcom, taniwha-hunter DJ or amusingly honest teenager Chevy, How Far is Heaven is often as funny and moving as Taika Waititi’s Boy, with barely a classroom scene going by without someone testing the patience of the compassionate sisters.

But there are deeper and more moving observations that are left to the audience to discover for themselves, whether it’s the kids discussing their futures while a Mongrel Mob party goes on in the village, a young boy’s thoughts on his dad in prison, or 94-year-old Sister Anna Maria chopping firewood. Smith and Pryor should be commended for their even-handed approach to the subject matter and for seemingly capturing life as it is, without judging or framing it. They lived within the community for a year, and had to gain the trust and acceptance of the community, all without really knowing what would come of their hours of footage. Despite what must have been a difficult editing process, the film naturally meanders through the lives of its protagonists, revealing wisdom, hope and humour.Hide

The Peoples' Reviews

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Very much the bitter with the sweet with the Nuns trying to do good work in a difficult part of the country.

Some of the locals filmed are quite engaging and no matter how difficult their lives might be they hold on to an intrinsic love and respect for the land and its people.

The longer the film progresses the deeper and more spontaneous the relationship between the film crew and community...highly recommended.

BY adeej superstar

I saw this film at the "Film Talk" event at the Rialto Cinemas Newmarket, and was able to talk to the filmmakers afterwards. This documentary film is a wonderful portrayal of life where the white Sisters of Compassion have been welcomed and accepted as Tangata Whenua of this area. Taking the film-viewer through four seasons in the village, the seasons also illustrate different stages in the lives of the village's residents - particularly the kids. The portrayed inter-relationships between... More light and darkness, holiness and profanity & hope and hopelessness carry through the film. The sisters do an amazing job with the children in this village, and have the patience of saints! The village of Jerusalem is changing with much of the road through being sealed now, and the route being recognised as a tourist attraction. This film provides a wonderful record of history and shows the realities of living in one of the most isolated places in New Zealand.Hide

The Press Reviews

  • This beautifully crafted film features stunning cinematography, clever editing, an evocative score and a group of kids who leave a lasting impression. Full Review

  • This cinematic treat provides a rare glimpse into a world where different spiritualities coexist with the kind of mutual respect that would make [James K.] Baxter proud. Full Review

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