DIRECTOR: KATHLEEN GALLAGHER
WICKCANDLE FILMS: http://www.wickcandle.co.nz
REVIEWED BY DR. CATHIE KOA DUNSFORD.
WORLD PREMIERE: FESTIVAL OF FLOWERS, HAGLEY PARK, MARCH 3, 2012 WITH SEMINAR BY FILM CREW AND STARS & HOLLYWOOD CINEMA, SUMNER, MARCH 4, 2012, WITH FILM CREW AND STARS, AOTEAROA NEW ZEALAND.
NGA KANOKI O TE RANGI: STARS, THE EYES OF THE SKY.
Nga whetu heri kai mai: The stars carry food to us [since they control the growth of the crops].
“This fascinating environmental feature calls us to a closer intimacy with our skies – celestial navigators, climatologists, a Nobel prize winning scientist, biodynamic, Maori, and radio astronomers, farmers, fishermen and business folk who observe the sky, the air, the stars, the moon and sun cycles. Together they show how we can establish a way of observing, living and doing business which results in non pollution of our skies.” - Kathleen Gallagher, Director.
Sky Whisperers: Ranginui opens with an exquisite karanga to Papatuanuku, Tangaroa, Ranginui, a call of respect to earth, sea and sky and a call of awakening to us to look after those created before us, to recreate balance and harmony so we may once again live in tune with the planet. The voice of composer Aroha Yates-Smith, hauntingly present throughout this extraordinary series of feature films by director Kathleen Gallagher, pulls us into our wairua, our spirit, as the camera takes us high into the sky, as if we are flying above the land and sea, at one with the air, as the sun rises on the ocean horizon, reminding us each day we can begin again, giving us hope for the future. The exquisite karanga and waiata of Aroha Yates-Smith alongside the outstanding cinematography of Mark Lapwood, who gives us wings to rise above the earth and view her from the sky, as if we are with Ranginui on this journey, looking down on the earth and sea, then swooping back up into the stars, forms a powerful waiata of peace.
As with all of Kathleen Gallagher’s films, the kaupapa of what is needed to heal the planet is balanced with grace and aroha and a deep appreciation of the sheer artistry and beauty of the natural world, providing us with inspiration and the knowledge and tools to begin the journey together. This visionary director manages to pull together scientists, ecologists, celestial navigators, writers, astronomers, et al, and work with them as a team so that the final whole is empowering and inspirational. Editor Therese Gallagher-Power deserves special mention here for her ability, with the director, to weave these wise voices and lifetimes of knowledge together into a kete or basket of knowledge to nourish and feed us all with themes that interlink with the cinematography; music and words forming arias that flow through the narrative or korero of the film.
After we are drawn magically into the film, flying through the sky with the karakia appreciating the elements and calling us to protect them, we are thrown into a haka of challenge from our mokopuna, the future generations of this planet, as they perform Ka Mate, Ka Mate, urging us to work together and navigate our waka forward as one. Their koro is Ngati Awa visionary Pouroto Ngarepo, who explains that the stars live in us, we are them and they are us, that they connect all the elements together. Pouroto feels we are disconnected from the natural world and thus began to lose our way but finally people are beginning to awaken, that the spiritual world is reaching out to us with signs, sometimes disrupting the natural elements, to make us see what is truly happening that we may reach out and reconnect with the planet. If we look after the land, sky and universe, then they will look after us. He refers to Te Kooti’s prophecy that a great nation would rise up to carry us forward to utopia where all the elements are in balance again. This restoration of balance and harmony is our task. During his korero, the music urges us to go deeper into ourselves to find solutions, to listen to our instincts. The sounds of Ranginui by Makoto Takaoko, aided by Chris Sinclair and Ben Edwards in sound mixing and the mahi of musicians Richard Nunns and Bob Bickerton, help create a magic atmosphere of meditation and movement throughout the film.
Respected Canterbury academic and mechanical engineer, Susan Krumdieck, reinforces Pouroto’s vision by showing us ways we can take this kaupapa forward. She explains that in her grandparents’ time, the air quality was about 300 parts per million and that in many places in the world it is now over double that. We have witnessed massive changes since then and we need to transition to use less fossil fuels and make a conscious choice to do so. That this, in fact, is much cheaper than keeping the dependence on fossil fuels. She suggests a cap on oil imports, with ten percent less each year and shows how Air NZ successfully reduced their fuel for the same service by using such means. She mentions Germany as one country that has closed the loop and made sure that materials manufactured are returned to their origin and how that encourages corporates to think about what they are producing to make sure it gets recycled. While she speaks, we fly above the clouds. The camera reinforces the fact that we can do something. It becomes a character in this narrative as all the elements of nature are characters in Maori korero and whakapapa. Susan reinforces the vital importance of us adopting a low fossil fuel lifestyle, that we need to recognise and acknowledge that we already have enough, rather than encouraging consumption by turning our attention to accumulating more of the “good fuels” and adapting to solar and wind power and alternative technologies. Without the decision to reduce our consumption, all this gets lost and we cannot move forward. Her assertion that we have enough, we do not need more, in fact, we need less, leaves us in no doubt of a way forward that everyone on the planet can afford and employ. There are no excuses with this wisdom. We can all do it and do it now. Tau ke.
James Waiwai, Tuhoe Koro from Lake Waikaremoana, whispers Susan’s words on a spiritual level. Perched beneath a First Nations flying eagle, he talks about the importance of whakapapa, genealogy, in our creation. Papatuanuku, the earth, Tangaroa, the sea, Tawhirimatea, the winds, Ranginui, the sky…all were created before humans. We are the last creation. In Maori whakapapa, this means we are teina, the last born. Thus we owe respect and allegiance to those born before us. Only then can we restore balance and become one with the universe. In the creation of Hineahuone, the first human being, a woman, the Gods all put some of their essence into her, thus she represents them and their energy is in us. We need to respect and honour that essence and act accordingly. Thus we cannot hurt or rape the land or seas or rivers. “We are the forests of Tane and Tane is us.” We are one. His korero follows Maori kaitiakitanga in all respects, which embraces the whakapapa of the gods, the natural world and indicates the ways we need to nourish our environment in order to nourish ourselves and vice versa. When we are in tune, we will reach the same vibration as Papatuanuku.
Clouds race over the hills, always moving forward, emphasising that we need to act fast, embrace these words. Nobel prize winning scientist, David Whitehead, shows us further ways we can do this, providing us with more tools to act. He explains that according to the Kyoto Protocol, we should have reduced our emissions but in fact they have grown by 25% since then. He warns us that if we do not reduce our carbon emissions in agriculture, that other countries will refuse to take our food. If we continue to dump nitrous oxide, yet more dung and urine on our fields, then we will be in even deeeper trouble. He returns to the ways of our ancestors in recommending that we plant more plantain and grasses on our farms and make the soils fertile so that the worms pull the carbon deeper beneath the earth and that we use bio-char to store carbon in the soil. He is working to do this and states that Aoteaora New Zealand is leading the world in carbon remission by fencing farms and regenerating the native bush. There is hope when we have world class scientists not buying into the model of exploitative farming for profit alone. Every permaculture and kaitiakitanga teacher I know would agree with him. We can find solutions together.
His words are echoed by Otago Research Scientist Richard McKenzie, who states that his NZ team started observing the ozone before it became a global problem, measuring the nitrogen dioxide in the atmosphere. In the northern hemisphere, you cannot see further than 15-20 kilometers in most cities, if that. He affirms the Montreal Protocol of 1987, where an agreement was signed to phase out harmful chemicals that destroy the ozone and now he sees signs of recovery. Scientist Ken Taylor affirms that there has been an improvement in the air quality since there has been a change in coal use, but we still have some way to go. His revelation that 80% of the air contaminants are in domestic heating and just 20% by industry and cars makes us realise how much we can do to help this problem. The solutions, as Susan Krumdieck suggested earlier, are in the choices we make.
Te Rarawa Author and Ecologist, Cath Koa Dunsford, embraced by the ferns surrounding Mohala Organic Community Gardens, emphasises the importance of starting small and working with Kaitiakitanga, the Maori system of guardianship or stewardship of the natural elements, which contains the system of whakapapa, as detailed earlier by James Waiwai, as a way forward. She talks about working instinctively with nature, such as when Cyclone Bola blew over her bananas. Using a Maori musical instrument, the putatara, she shows how new bananas grew from the old stems when thrown into the native bush and that was the canopy for Mohala Gardens, getting rid of the kikuyu grass by forming a forest garden shelter for over 150 herbs and tropical fruits growing beneath, providing food for the local community and Matakana Greenswap. By letting the kanuka and manuka grow, the forest regenerates and the birds poop out seeds they have eaten, being terrific natural gardeners. She shows us how the ancient Maori Maramataka, Moon Calendar, works and emphasises the importance of following our intuition as we heal the planet.
Waiata from the mokopuna, the future generations who plant the earth, follows where the Landcare Trust encourages educating those who will inherit this earth, reducing sediment and protecting the Tauranga Harbour. Lindell Crisp and Ropata McGowan, Rongoa Maori healer, korero about land management and making sure the land is clean to nourish the rivers and oceans. They reinforce the role of plants in healing the earth and the importance of observation, also in the earlier korero and that of the celestial navigators in this film. Ropata talks about teaching people a new language, the ability to hear and listen to the leaves and plants and that until we can do that, we cannot fully learn Rongoa. “Sometimes medicine is not the leaves but watching the leaves growing”. Ka pai. Ropata also states the importance of whakapapa affirming that we are all a part of the natural world and the importance of healing these connexions in order to heal ourselves as well as the planet.
Biodynamic astronomer, Rachel Pomeroy, talks about opening the soil to what is happening in the sky. Of course, this is another version of the Maramataka Moon Calendar shown earlier and the korero of the Celestial Navigators in the film. She affirms Sagittarius, for instance, as a strong growing energy for plants and states that the humus gives the soil ears to hear what is happening in the cosmos, affirming Ropata McGowan’s words about listening to the soil and rongoa plants and the cosmos. Rachel refers to the moon, stars and sky as characters of the planet, echoing the cinematograhper, Mark Lapwood’s, exciting evocation of the sky as a character, as Ranginui, always in movement and responding to the other elements. The camera takes us into the night skies and we fly with the lens, as if becoming stars ourselves. This is akin to the kind of Maori korero and oral narrative that Witi Ihimaera talks about in Dreamswimmer and Cath Koa Dunsford in Talkstory and Pele’s Tsunami . It also sings notes in tune with the celestial navigators and the korero of James Waiwai, et al. Rachel explains that the word for the star Jupiter, in India, is Guru, meaning a wise healer. Again, this strikes resonance with so much of the korero by tangata whenua in this film.
Ken Ring is renowned for his long range weather forecasts and predictions. He explains that nature works in waves, not in linear lines, again corroborating the korero of Maori authors mentioned above, in explaining the difference between the linear narrative of western novels and the wave-like, spiral motions of the work of Maori and other indigenous authors, which Keri Hulme [Booker Award, the bone people] also refers to. It is fascinating, thoughout this film, how science so often supports and corroborates the creative arts, wheras it is often used in the world of corporations and governments to support financial exploitation of indigenous and other peoples. Here, Kathleen Gallagher brings the visionaries, artists and scientists together in a shared korero that defies and challenges the status quo in a radical and fascinating way. We, the audience, begin to wonder where science and art parted company and whether there were lucrative contracts that helped this unnatural division. Any knowledge of true kaitiakitanga and deep ecology shows us that they are, indeed, connected and always have been. Ken Ring explains that today we can still use the ancient calendars to show that there is a 19 year cycle that is the exact same today as 19 years ago, and the moon calendars confirm this. The construction of Stonehenge and other stone circles worked on this basis, allowing one foot for one week, all based on the 19 year cycle.
Russian Radio Astronomer, Surgei Gulyaev, is passionate about his admiration for the beauty of the Southern Skies, where it is possible to see the cosmos as nowhere else. It was always his dream to work here and he has established radio astronomy at the Warkworth Satellite Station and developed it into a world class research centre. He shows us how different galaxies transmit different radio waves and we stand in awe at the beauty of the swoosh of Ikaroa, the Milky Way, on his screen. Lapwood’s camera takes us on another moving journey as if we are circling this satellite and its galaxies. We become a part of the stars and the stars are us, just as James Waiwai said at the opening of the film. Surgei explains how useful this research is in predicting earthquakes, a vital skill for those of us living on earthquake prone islands such as Aotearoa. His words are especially felt at the World Premiere of the film in earthquake devastated Christchurch.
The camera flies us to Mt John Observatory at Lake Tekapo, which resembles a giant Dalek perched on top of this isolated land where we can still view the skies without the invasion of city lights. Like a celestial creature who has just landed, still flicking stardust from his wings, Graeme Murray appears from the observatory and tells us that over half the modern world cannot see the night sky. His Japanese friend, Hide Ozawa, said “If we had a night sky like this we would turn it into a park in the sky.” That began a movement, aided by Margaret Austin, to approach World Heritage to declare this as a pilot for the first ever world heritage starlight reserve. What vision! What a beautiful cross- cultural co-operation. Through this, Graeme became aware of the sound of the stars, their music, which has been documented by writers historically as The Music of the Spheres. His words resound with those earlier asking us to listen to nature, hear the sounds of rongoa, the leaves falling, the music of nature, in order to understand how it works and how we an interact with it. This wonderful Dalek Dome has make global discoveries like that of the existence of rogue stars which move about in space without a connexion to the sun. Graeme hears the music of the stars “like a giant orchestra, all in perfect harmony”. There’s a message here that accords with the kaupapa of Pouroto and James Waiwai at the beginning of this film.
Waitaha Kuia, Makere Chapman, shares korero on the Polynesian Migration by stars and the eco waka journey from Aotearoa, across Te Moana Nui a Kiwa, the Great Pacific Ocean, to San Francisco, navigating by the stars but using solar and wind power, which recently happened. She was there to greet the waka with karanga to form the completion of the sacred circle, which First Nations people know as the sacred hoop. See the work of Sioux/Pueblo author, Paula Gunn Allen in her book, The Sacred Hoop . Makere could hear our ancestors singing with joy at this final completion of the sacred circle. The conch shell from the waka resounds with the sea in Jenny Mauger’s footage of the waka journey and are taken onto the waves, feeling their motion, as the double hulled sailing canoes enter into San Francisco Bay.
Celestial Navigator, Jack Thatcher, then explains to us the working of the Celestial Navigation School, following in the footsteps of revered navigator Mau Piailug and the waka journey of the Hokule’a from Hawai’i to Tahiti in 1976 and Aotearoa/NZ in 1985. The Hokule’a was designed by Herb Kawainui Kane who also helped establish the Polynesian Voyaging Society. See Kaitiakitanga Pasifika for further details of these voyages . Jack shows how the Maori wooden circle of posts represent the horizon line between the sea and sky and explains how the celestial navigation system works on land. We view our own version of the ancient stone circles, but carved in wood. The resemblance is awesome. Waka sailor, Jenny Mauger, shares korero and footage from the actual eco waka voyage of the double hulled waka and how indigenous First Nations people saw them as echoing the return of the voyaging waka before. Hoturoa Barclay-Kerr from Te Wananga o Aotearoa, as with speakers before, emphasises the importance of observation of the moon, sun and stars, thanking them for guiding the way for us all and recognising the signs that navigate all our journeys and being able to read them. If you have a visual picture of what lies ahead, envisage it coming towards you and learn to listen to the elements, then the process is easier. As with other speakers, he affirms the importance of listening with ears, mind and body to nature. He also states that the oceans are the lungs of our world and unless they are clean, none of us can breathe. We must be in tune with sustainable forms of navigation or we are “Navigating canoes to nowhere.” His words echo in our ears as we are drawn by the camera back into the night sky and further inward to meditate the visuals, words, sounds, experiences of this unique film by Kathleen Gallagher.
I have attempted to convey some of the impressions left after viewing this film but I urge all readers to experience this for themselves. I wanted to create as close a record as I could for others to learn from the kaupapa. But no words on a page can recreate the awesome experience of this film in the theatre. If you cannot see it a a cinema near you during the inaugural film tour, then order it on dvd from Wick Candle Films: http://www.wickcandlefilms.co.nz
 Dreamswimmer, Witi Ihimaera, Penguin Books, 1997.
Pele’s Tsunami [novel] and Talkstory: The Art of Listening: Indigenous Poetics and Politics in Cathie Dunsford’s Books. Global Dialogues Press, 2007.
 The Sacred Hoop, Paula Gunn Allen, Beacon Press, Boston, 1986.
 Kaitiakitanga Pasifika, Cath Koa Dunsford, Global Dialogues Press, 2012.
Please see my reviews of Kathleen Gallagher’s first two films in this series, Earth Whisperers, Papatuanuku and Water Whisperers, Tangaroa: http://www.apwn.net
While featuring in Sky Whisperers, Ranginui, I wanted to continue my korero on these films and make links with other creative works for those interested in following the kaupapa and further reading. Feedback thus far has shown me that readers globally are hungry for this kind of reading experience.
Common License Copyright: Feel free to share this review so long as it is quoted in full and the reviewer’s biography and publication are acknowledged.
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