I admit that I booked this film because it was filmed in black and white and from New Zealand. I knew it was about rugby in a rural town but that was about all. When it began I thought, “Oh Lordy, what have I done. I’m watching a film about sport.” I’m so glad I booked it. This observational documentary immerses you in the lives of the Reporoa rugby team. Reporoa is a small dairy farming community on the North Island, somewhere between Rotorua and Taupo. It reminds me of communities in the Riverina and Goulburn Valley where football becomes an essential part of the social fabric. The Reporoa rugby team has not been doing so well. It is made up of a mixed bunch of young blokes, farmers, veteran players and they unite twice a week to train and play.
This is a fly-on-the-wall documentary. There are no recreations or reenactments, no intervention by the film makers. They spent a year in Reporoa and were completely accepted by their subjects, gaining intimate access to their lives. Often we, and the camera, are right there in the huddle with them. The black and white cinematography is beautiful, although I couldn’t help wishing it was a bit higher resolution. Classical music is used to overlay the sound in some scenes and, along with the use of black and white, this adds a timeless quality.
The film centres on three men in particular – Peanut, who is 17 and keen to prove himself, Broomy, the team captain and a farmer, and Kelvin, the single parent of young twin boys. We see them train, go on drinking tours, pull dairy calves, box, make school lunches and slowly start to win all of their matches. We see them play rugby but this isn’t a film about rugby. We see Kelvin training the under 7s, instilling his values of fair play, Broomy counselling Pom, a young player on his first drunken bus tour, Peanut talking of meeting his girlfriend’s dad, an ex-cop who told him, “If you’re gonna root her, you’ve gotta tarp up.” These are three men at different stages of their lives and what we are seeing is a loving and non-judgemental exploration of masculinity, the ‘hard man’ culture of New Zealand. Some of it is challenging, particularly the relentless alcohol, but a thread throughout is the how the men mentor each other and you feel a strong sense of the collective.
There are no women’s voices in this film – we know they are there, we see them at matches, but this is a film about men, about the rites and rituals and community of being male. I’m sure the women would have plenty to say that would help us better understand rural New Zealand, but that would be another film.