Margaret Mead Film Festival Tradition Meets 21st Century in New Zealand
This year marks the 39th anniversary of the annual Margaret Mead Film Festival, and crowds are still flocking to the American Museum of Natural History to be amazed and informed by filmed anthropological excursions around the world. The 2015 theme, “Thresholds,” illustrates that borders and boundaries provide security and identity but may also create barriers between peoples and cultures. One fascinating film, “Ever the Land,” documents the planning and construction in 2014 by the Maori Ngai Tuhoe tribe in New Zealand of a “Living Building” that is 21st century cutting edge in technology and concept, but respectful of Tuhoe values, relationship to the land, and history of self- sufficiency--Commitment to Mother Earth, Father Sky, and the Environment. The building, “Te Wharehou o Tuhoe,” one of the few structures of its type in the world, meets the very strict standards of the International Living Building Challenge (LBC) for sustainability certification. The edifice, which is constructed from local materials, serves as tribal headquarters with a large assembly-chamber and includes a cafeteria, library, tribal archive room, art and performance spaces, and meeting rooms. It is fronted by a large wooden arch, representing the moment the sun reaches its zenith. Symbolizing hope for the future, its greenstone door is said to “look to the past and close it, and look to the future and open it.”
The film is often very beautiful with shots of the mists and thick forests of Te Urewera National Park in New Zealand’s northern island, the traditional land of the Tuhoe. Confrontation with colonial history is part of the story. The construction of the building is set against scenes of local meetings and negotiations between the government (Crown) and the Tuhoe, who seek redress for 150 years of land confiscations, violence, and injustices. In a 2014 treaty (Tuhoe-Crown Settlement), the government “strips away the wrongs,” and apologizes for “its unjust and excessive behavoir.” Te Urewera National Park is given its own legal identity and returned to the Tuhoe for management (the Tuhoe do not believe in land ownership), and the tribe receives compensation of $128,000,000.
Filmmaker Sarah Grohnert went to New Zealand as a German exchange student and, enchanted with the land, returned to live and work there after graduation. She explains the Tuhoe “Living Building” is seen as the infrastructure needed to strengthen and grow the community. It is bringing together a people fractured by history. It has created jobs and started a cycle of repair and renewal. It has created a blueprint for other communities.The film has given the Tuhoe pride and allowed white New Zealanders to see them in a new light. Grohnert reports Tribal leaders are proceeding slowly and carefully as they plan for the future. Preserving their land, culture, and community is a priority. They believe “The land is the blood of the people, the people are the face of the land.” #