Sometimes our work takes us out of the office – that’s normal – meetings, studio sessions etc. But at the end of May I had a slightly different reason to turn on my out-of-office email.
The Ministry of Health’s Healthy Families NZ initiative is, frankly, a complex wee thing, with lots and lots of moving parts. It’s aim is to improve people’s health where they live, learn, work and play in order to prevent chronic illness.
Being community centred, it also has a lot of stakeholders; it was for those stakeholders that MOH asked Curative to find a creative way to communicate the need & purpose of Healthy Families. It needed to be bold, vibrant, and give the viewer a real sense of the places where Healthy Families NZ exists.
What did this mean for me? It meant a whirlwind tour, along with good friend and Curative Collaborator Benj Brooking, of more-or-less the entire country.
Healthy Families works within 10 ‘Healthy Families Communities” throughout the country (Far North, Waitakere, Manukau, Manurewa/Papakura, Rotorua, East Cape, Whanganui, Lower Hutt, Spreydon/Heathcote, and Invercargil)…
…and we decided to visit all of them. Within two weeks.
I was asked to think about the things I saw, learnt about, and discovered on my journey. I think the key things that stand out in my mind are threefold:
Firstly, I learnt very quickly that my instinct, which said I’d seen most of what there is to see in New Zealand, was entirely mistaken. There are SO MANY cool places in this country that I’d never even considered exploring. The example that immediately stands out is visiting a tiny community in the East Cape. We visited an incredible school teacher named Tuihana Pook, who runs Te Kura Mana Maori o Whangaparaoa. Tuihana’s kura is fully Te Reo immersion – and when I say full immersion, I mean FULL. We walked in to the staff room, where Te Reo was being exclusively spoken. It was almost as if they were bemused about the level of Te Reo I speak - let’s just say it’s not lots – because it was such a fundamental way of communicating for them.
It’s not that I didn’t know that places like this little community just outside of Whangaparaoa exist, but I perhaps never imagined the different, and fully amazing ways that they would operate. By way of example, on the day we were there, the school was closed because there was a tangi on in the nearby town, and when there is a tangi in one of these communities, everyone goes – like, EVERYONE. There is such a strong sense of the importance of people – people matter more here than the efficiency of avoiding closing down the school for the day, or missing at day of work.
It was one of those experiences that reassures you that the world is full of great people, with entirely different sets of experiences and perspectives from yourself, and who, if you pay attention, you can learn a lot from.
I think maybe the reason why this trip provided such incredible insight into the parts of the country that are probably not visited as much as they deserve, was the fact that in each location we were shown around by locals. Locals always know what’s up – they take you on the fast track to the heart of a place. Throughout the project, I’ve been talking about conveying a genuine sense of place through the video; creating that kind of authenticity requires more than a bit of Googling “iconic places in Rotorua”. Authenticity of place is about not just the right landmarks, but also the right people, the right attitudes, and the right insights.
Insider knowledge meant that we found ourselves in some of the hidden corners of a place that, once you know them, seem to hold very specific and significant importance. Perhaps a good example was in Invercargill; when I think of Invercargill, I think of that big water tower, the clock tower in the middle of the roundabout… I guess just lots of towers. But what we saw was so much more than that – we learned that Invercargill is home to one of the world largest sheep meat processing plants, which employs so many people that it’s completely vital to the fabric of Invercargill. By filming within the boning room, we were able to show off an aspect of the Invercargill landscape that, while unfamiliar to outsiders, is wholly integral to what makes up Invercargill. Other times our local guides took us variously to historical marae, art galleries, important beach spots, and a Samoan church. We saw locals doing tai chi outside a rural marae in the central plateau, and we saw mall shoppers doing Zumba in South Auckland.
So many things that we’d never see without local insight.
The third and perhaps the most remarkable thing about all of this – the thing that surprised me most, was the speed at which it all came together. With a group of engaged people, who are well connected with - and who fully understand - their communities, we were able to go from having no plans, to making this whole thing come together in less than two weeks from briefing to day one of shooting.
I want to take a moment to thank the excellent people we met and worked with along the way: from whirlwind tripping aroud the Far North, to getting taken on whole-day driving tours of East Cape and the Central Plateau, to experiencing proper Southern Hospitality with an absolutely HUGE plate of spare ribs, in Invercargill, as well as everything in between – thanks to everyone who showed us what this blimmin’ great country has to offer if you figure out how to unlock it.