'Dark horse' NZ doco on Oscar shortlist

By Jacqueline Smith

Sumner Burstyn and her husband, director Thomas Burstyn. Photo / APN
Sumner Burstyn and her husband, director Thomas Burstyn. Photo / APN

If films are anything to go by, the world sees New Zealanders as hobbits who sing Poi-E, but an Oscar-shortlisted documentary depicts a very different Kiwi lifestyle - a family who live in teepees and travel on horseback.

Self-funded documentary This Way of Life tracked the intimate life of the Hawkes Bay's Karena family over nearly four years.

Yesterday morning, producer Sumner Burstyn and her husband, director Thomas Burstyn, were told they had been shortlisted for an Oscar, sitting alongside some of the year's most talked-about documentaries: Sundance-winner Restrepo and British graffiti artist Banksy's Exit Through the Gift Shop.

"I look at the films on the list and they really are the cream of what's out there, and then there's this little dark horse," Sumner Burstyn said.

The Burstyns began filming nearly five years ago and This Way of Life has been selected for 10 international festivals since its premiere at the New Zealand festival.

It won a jury award at the Berlin International Film Festival and took the best documentary and best documentary director awards at this year's Qantas awards.

Sumner Burstyn said yesterday's announcement was great news for the NZ documentary scene.

"We really don't have a culture of documentary here, it's never been part of our film vernacular."

According to the feedback she has received, the film has been popular with international audiences because it taps into the sense of a simple life.

"As life becomes more and more complicated, everybody wants to live like that."

Members of the Karena family attended a screening in Berlin but have otherwise kept a low profile since the film's release. Sumner Burstyn said the film had not greatly changed the Karena family life.

"They are very humble. They decided they didn't want to live in the house any more, they wanted to live in some teepees on the side of the river. They still run horse treks. They are pretty much the same."

The five Oscar finalists will be announced in January.

- NZ Herald

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