Reaching for the top: Mt Zion

14_mt-zionIn this film, writer-director Tearepa Kahi asks us to consider what can happen to a person’s roots – in their family and community – when they reach for the stars at whatever cost. Turei is a talented Maori musician living in New Zealand in 1979 who idolises Bob Marley.

When he hears news of the reggae singer’s upcoming tour to Auckland, he sets his sights squarely on his band being the star’s support act.

But Turei (Stan Walker, Australian Idol winner) is also a rural potato farmer with family commitments not conducive to a career in the limelight. Despite many obstacles Turei pushes on towards his goal. As well as a lack of money, experience or even a name, the band has overbearing obligations. All of the band members are employed in the potato fields – work they share with their family and community.

But Turei wants to break free of his repetitive job and the limitations of his family’s expectations, and explore his potential as a musician.

After spontaneously taking to the stage at a local pub and impressing the crowd and, importantly, influential bar staff, the band is asked to audition for a competition to decide who will support Bob Marley on his tour.  The timing of the competition is particularly (and, yes, a little predictably) inconvenient for the potato farm workers who need to attend an important ceremony on that day.

Not insignificantly, an all-white boy band is readily available to participate in the competition and has the backing necessary to secure the support act job.

And so a moral dilemma is born for Turei. Thus, the audience is taken on a journey of great hope, regret, discipline and love.
The potato farming community is portrayed as, quite literally, down-to-earth. The grassroots nature of what they do is charming (if perhaps a little romanticised) – the people who buy their potatoes know, appreciate and trust the workers.

The importance of supporting localised business is highlighted when an accident suddenly prevents the work from getting done. The surrounding community – by no means well off – pool their money together to keep the business afloat. There is a clear theme here – the tension between following the mass-made dreams of a mainstream, homogenised global culture or furthering the dreams of your local community.

This is a particularly important question for Indigenous peoples who find themselves pulled in different directions by a post-colonial society. Money makes this relatively new, consumer-driven world go round – and staying loyal to your culture doesn’t necessarily equate with material aspirations.

Will Turei be persuaded by an imagined call from the near-shrine he’s made to Bob Marley on his poster-clad wall or by the tangible and serious needs of his family and community? Is there anything wrong with following a dream to be all you can be when you have great talent?

Satisfyingly, this film is happy to leave grey areas grey and keep a sense of reality undistorted by Hollywood idealism. The relevant questions still linger despite the story’s fixed ending – which is surely a marker of a film worth watching. And, not to be overlooked, the music is truly wonderful. Not only does Walker sing with incredible talent, the sound of the band is masterful and soothing.
Reggae lovers are in for a treat.

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