How a film about a rugby team became an affectionate and intimate portrait of NZ

Graeme Tuckett



Stuff NZ Newspapers

Focus Sound & Vision

Miriam Smith and Christopher Pryor spent 12 months in 2011 and 2012 living with the nuns at Jerusalem/Hiruharama on the Whanganui River. The film they made – How Far Is Heaven – was an elegiac piece of work. It went on to move and delight audiences around the world. Smith and Pryor re-emerged in 2015 with a new film, again made after a year living as locals, this time in the town of Reporoa, about halfway between Taupo¯ and Rotorua. Reporoa is home to a few hundred people, several thousand cows and a couple of fiercely proud rugby teams. Smith and Pryor were granted unprecedented access to the Senior A team – not just to the games, but also the changing sheds, the beer-drenched bonding sessions, the parties and the homes of the men and women who keep the teams and the town alive. The Ground We Won is unlike any documentary I’ve ever seen from New Zealand. The decision to shoot in blackand-white was inspired. Stripped of the expected greens and browns, rural New Zealand becomes an unfamiliar place – the perfect setting for such an unexpected story. Plenty happened in that year. The team had its share of wins and losses, new people came to town, relationships crumbled and new ones arose. And, at the centre of it, teammates Peanut, Slug, Broomy and co drink, talk, harangue and act out all the ways in which these which men learn to trust each other. What happens on the field matters, but the film is about a lot more than 80 minutes on a Saturday afternoon. This is a portrait of community, honestly delivered. Unlike every other New Zealand-made film set in the spaces between the cities, The Ground We Won doesn’t romanticise or mythologise the people or the places. And that is what makes it so damned good. The Ground We Won is a raucous, funny, affectionate and occasionally shocking film. There is ‘‘toxic masculinity’’ here, if you are looking for it, but also a cleareyed examination of how New Zealand raises its men. In 2015, I called The Ground We Won ‘‘an instant national classic’’ – and I’ll stand by that. If you want to understand rural New Zealand, The Ground We Won is a fine place to start. Hugely recommended. The Ground We Won is now available to stream on AroVision, Academy OnDemand, NZFilm OnDemand, DocPlay and Beamafilm.