This Way of Life
Nigel Smut returns with an intimate portrait of a family of horse whisperers!
“What do I do for a living? I live for a living.” These are the first words spoken in the documentary This Way of Life, which draws a vivid and intimate portrait of the Ottley-Karena family—Peter Karena, a white man, his Maori wife Colleen, and their six children— living in the lush wilderness of New Zealand, or Aotearoa as they call it.
Shot over a period of four years, the film was helmed by Canadian filmmaker Thomas Burstyn, best known for his work as a cinematographer on such films as Toy Soldiers and Crying Freeman. This Way of Life premiered at the 2009 Vancouver International Film Festival and made last year’s Academy Award list for Best Documentary Feature.
When we open, Peter has a run-in with the authorities, culminating in an act of arson to his house, which has been in the family for generations. Forced to leave his home behind and start anew, Peter takes his family into the mountains to live a life of simplicity, living off the land and hunting game for sustenance. They ride bareback on wild horses through the beautiful New Zealand wilderness. They plunge from cliffs into the crystal clear waters of rivers below. We follow Peter as he hunts deer, skins and cooks them, and explains to his son that the animal died so that they could survive, and to be thankful to it for sacrificing itself. The film begs us to examine our own way of life and to question its true meaning.