Series Classification: PG (Parental Guidance)
Director: Anna Marbrook
On February 13th and 14th Cyclone Gabrielle unleashed its power the coastal community of Te Henga bringing down hillsides, flooding rivers and destroying access in and out of the valley. River Memory captures this devastation from the catchment area in the Waitakere Ranges - Lake Wainamu- along the Waiti stream and down to the ocean. Intercut with actuality footage of the cyclone the residents living alongside these waterways share their stories of landscapes marked by the cyclone and how their relationship to home has been irrevocably changed.
Te Henga residents are mourning not just where they live, but a part of who they are, says Anna Marbrook.
“We have experienced the land literally falling away under our feet.”
The River Memory director and Te Henga resident uses the term “ecological grief” to explain it.
“It’s a loss of a way of life or a loss of something you thought was going to be, but in fact, it’s not going to be like that in the future.”
Te Henga, or Bethells Beach, is a small and tight-knit community of several hundred people on the west coast of the North Island, near Auckland.
Residents are still cleaning up following the destruction from Cyclone Gabrielle on the 13th and 14th of February, but the film describes how the damage goes much deeper.
Gabrielle has permanently damaged the landscape in which multiple generations have lived, worked, and made memories.
The Waitakere river level rose dramatically during the cyclone, leading to the damage and destruction of bridges and houses throughout the settlement.
Marbrook said afterwards she could see great open wounds where sections of hillsides had fallen, tracts of the native bush had been ripped out and tonnes of farmland had quite literally slumped.
“The rivers changed courses, well-trodden tracks disappeared and Lake Wainamu, once called the Jewel of the Waitakere Ranges, was now the colour of clay and choked with debris,” she said.
River Memory documents how the destruction of Te Henga through the lenses of residents, and how they deal with the feeling of displacement, uncertainty, and loss.
In her own words - River Memory director Anna Marbrook
Te Henga is my home. It’s a small settlement on the West Coast about 40 minutes drive from central Auckland. On February 13th and 14th Cyclone Gabrielle unleashed its power on our coastline and the vicious tail of the storm brought down hillsides, flooded rivers and destroyed access in and out of our valley.
“It’s nothing compared to other places!” and “We got off lightly here!” were common phrases spoken in the aftermath as we realised how fortunate we were to be alive and to have homes still standing. Yet as I walked around Te Henga, all I could see were great open wounds where sections of hillsides had fallen, tracts of native bush had been ripped out and tonnes of farmland had quite literally slumped. Our rivers changed courses, our well-trodden tracks disappeared and Lake Wainamu, once called the Jewel of the Waitakere Ranges, was now the colour of clay and choked with debris. Our land has been devastated and because we have such a deep connection to this place the devastation is something we all feel. I have since come to understand that what we are experiencing is “Ecological grief.”
When I was approached to make a film my first thought was to capture the way that Gabrielle has carved itself onto our landscape. I wanted to record what has happened to our home and give space for the people here to speak to that.
“This land was our compass…. We feel like we don’t have that compass anymore”
Rose Worley 5th generation resident.
We travel by drone from the catchment area in the Waitakere Ranges - Lake Wainamu- along the Waiti stream and down to the ocean. This journey is intercut with footage of the cyclone captured by residents on their cell phones. The people we meet live alongside these waterways. They are displaced, uncertain and feel the loss.
As I capture these stories, I am observing what has happened to Te Henga through the lenses of those who have lived here for generations. Their observations are based in intergenerational memory and they are sharing stories of rivers that are returning to old pathways. They are speaking of dormant springs and waterways coming to life again. They describe diminishing sand dunes over decades due to development and pine plantations. Through them, I am deepening my relationship to my home. I am experiencing the physical landscape through a much longer lens.
The morning after I finish the film I wake up and remember my student days in central Auckland walking across polished kauri wooden floors in old Ponsonby villas. These homes were built from the 120,000 ancient kauri milled out of the Waitakere Ranges. Now as I look out over the scarred hills of Te Henga I understand that Cyclone Gabrielle has in fact revealed some much older wounds that we are still recovering from. And River Memory the film is another point in a line of questioning for me about how we heal the land.
I am very aware that ecological grief is not a destination, it’s a brief port of call on our voyage away from exploitive ways of living towards regeneration and wellbeing.
In this short form documentary series, four award winning Kiwi filmmakers spend 72 hours in the life of devastating Cyclone Gabrielle, capturing the aftermath experienced by their own communities and themselves, from where they live, in some of the worst affected regions of the country.
Each stand-alone mini documentary dips into the lives of people on the ground, as they take action cleaning up, rebuilding, dropping critical supplies to stranded communities and much more.
Fast-turnaround, urgent and important this short form documentary series will reveal untold stories not seen in the headlines, told from a uniquely personal perspective.