Poi E: The Story of Our Song Liam-Maguren'S REVIEW

To call this film a crowd-pleaser is an understatement (‘pleased’ is how the Queen feels when she receives a cup of Earl Grey at the right temperature). The crowd at the Civic during opening night of the New Zealand International Film Festival was electrified by Tearepa Kahi’s cinematic celebration of our song that – wisely – becomes a celebration of our language as well.

There have been many documentaries about music and musicians that amount to 60 minutes of content thinned out to 90 minutes or more. Not here. There’s plenty to know about the construction of New Zealand’s greatest one-hit wonder, with Dalvanius Prime at its beating heart and the small town of Patea as its lifeblood. Getting to know the man, his motivations, his unique creative processes, and his relationship with the community all help answer the question a number of Kiwis have asked themselves: “Why do I feel so connected to this song?”

It wasn’t all smooth sailing, but a lot of the fun of this film comes from its down-to-Earth interviewees and how they recall the more rugged moments of getting the song out there. From the bustle of the incredibly short recording session to the search for the guy with the sweet Michael Jackson dance moves, there’s a warmth and playfulness to these micro stories that Kahi visually matches with light animation and punctuates with some witty editing tricks.

There’s so much packed into the movie that some of the more serious moments feel like they’re brushed aside too soon. (One part, in particular, emphasises how modernising traditional waiata was going to earn Prime many enemies – yet nothing comes of this.) But this hastiness is done in service of making The Story of Our Song an unstoppable joy.