Compassion Sisters feature in Film Festival gem – “How Far is Heaven”

A full theatre watched the 90 minute long documentary “How Far is Heaven” at the Paramount Theatre on in Wellington on Saturday. The documentary is a “fly on the wall view” of the interaction between three Compassion Sisters  and the local community at Jerusalem on the Whanganui river. Particular emphasis is placed on the local children’s view of reality.

“How Far is Heaven” which is being shown as part of the New Zealand International Film Festival was shot by by Chris Pryor and Miriam Smith shot over a year while they were living at Jerusalem.

It is first and foremost a rapt pictorial response to its beautiful setting through four seasons. Its recurrent subject is whether three Pākehā nuns, kaitiaki of the church and convent founded in the 1880s by Suzanne Aubert, are serving any useful social purpose there in 2011.

We meet the sisters, 94 year old Anna Maria, splitting the fire wood, Sue making jam and preserves, and Margaret Mary, volunteer-teaching at the local school.

Magaret Mary is diligent, patient and well aware that she mightn’t know half of what’s going on, she connects most readily with the kids when she teaches music.

But the taniwha under the bridge exercises a stronger hold on young imaginations in Jerusalem than the Christmas Nativity play.

Before the showing on Saturday the film makers spoke about the film and Sister Sue said an opening prayer.

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