Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Pietra Brettkelly: A kiwi storyteller telling the most unlikely stories

Vol. I, No. 6

I don't know about you, but when I hear about someone who's met Colonel Gaddafi, trekked on horseback in the Hindu Kush, and makes films on some of the world's most off-the-beaten-paths, I have one burning question: how on earth did he make these things happen for himself?

Clearing a mountainside with the villagers in the Hindu Kush 

Well, in this case, he's a she, and a formidable 'she' at that.

Director-Producer Pietra Brettkelly was 12 years old when she decided to become a storyteller. Well, that's only partially true. Pietra is from New Zealand, but she's of Irish descent, and so she considers storytelling to be a part of her heritage, an undeniable strand of her DNA. But it was when she was 12 that Pietra first discovered Sunday night TV programming: long-form journalism, documentary style. She asked her 'mum' who it was that was behind the camera. Eventually, she would be.

A few years later, like all New Zealanders, Pietra strapped on a backpack and left home to see the world. A few more years later, she came home. It was then that she got her break into the world of television. She'd been given her chance, and she took it. Pietra's sense of adventure paired with her inquisitiveness would be the perfect marriage. As she gamely puts it, "I meet people or go to places and want to ask too many questions, so what better way than to make a documentary, thereby being allowed to ask lots of questions? Being a filmmaker is a license to be inquisitive without seeming like a weirdo!"

Of course, there were things Pietra had to give up. Some of it she cared about, some of it she didn't. She's never wanted a big house, a nice car, or the material pleasantries that many of us collect. She does, however, fight loneliness, for she travels constantly and is never able to pay regular visits to friends and family.

Pietra Brettkelly in Libya, courtesy of Pietra Brettkelly

So, that in mind, Pietra began to make films. Extraordinary films. There was the one about the art popstar - who is very white - adopting very black Sudanese twin babies. There was the one about the impact of 9/11 and global terrorism on a local Maori tribe in unarmed New Zealand. She even met Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, yes in person, and filmed yet another unlikely story: a beauty pageant in Libya, hosted by the colonel himself! 

Pietra's films are breathtaking, adventurous, often controversial, and as inquisitive as the filmmaker herself. She's premiered at the big film festivals, and won awards for her documentary storytelling. But, incredibly, when I ask her what her dream is, she says she's not quite sure, that for her, her dream changes all the time. I know a few of you out there reading this who know just what Pietra's dream is. I know I do. She's living it. As Pietra says, "In some way, I love my work, every day, even when it's all incredibly difficult and not going well. It has variety and intrigue and keeps me passionate about this world we live in and the extraordinary people who live in it."

Ngaa Rauuira kapa haka group, from Maori Boy Genius

I met Pietra back in December, when she was premiering her latest film, Maori Boy Genius, at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. This film moved me so; it struck me physically, to the point of choking back tears. Through Pietra's own lens of following her dream, pursuing it to the ends of the earth, she tells the story of a young Maori boy who embarks on his own seemingly impossible dream, who also must follow it to the ends of the earth. If you've ever had a dream, and subsequently doubted yourself, but still wondered if any part of it was still possible, this film will change your world. It did mine. 

Go on and see for yourself. Click the link below to watch the trailer of Maori Boy Genius

Trailer for Maori Boy Genius, courtesy of Pietra Brettkelly