Screened as part of NZIFF 2009

The Strength of Water 2009

Directed by Armagan Ballantyne

New Zealand premiere screenings of the feature debut by Armagan Ballantyne from an original screenplay by Briar Grace-Smith. Already a popular and critical success at the Rotterdam and Berlin Film Festivals.

86 minutes 35mm / CinemaScope


Fiona Copland


Briar Grace-Smith


Bogumil Godfrejow


Elizabeth Kling

Production designer

Rick Kofoed

Costume designer

Kirsty Cameron


Peter Golub
Warren Maxwell


Hato Paparoa (Kimi)
Melanie Mayall-Nahi (Melody)
Jim Moriarty (Gibby)
Nancy Brunning (Joy)
Isaac Barber (Tai)
Pare Paseka (Tirea)
Shayne Biddle (Gene)


Rotterdam, Berlin 2009


An ineffable unity of loss and renewal, sadness and hope flows through this bold and gravely beautiful film. Like her theatre work, Briar Grace-Smith's original script embeds a mythic realm of spiritual existence in a specific location and commonplace language and does so with uncanny aptness. With first-time feature director Armagan Ballantyne, cinematographer Bogumil Godfrejow and a largely inexperienced cast, she has been blessed with the collaborators able to render that world palpable.

Ten-year-olds Kimi and Melody are twins living with their parents and three siblings on a farm on the Hokianga coast. Together they deliver eggs around the district – and lavish attention on a favoured hen they've named Aroha. The arrival of Tai, a teenage drifter looking to move into the local tapu house that belonged to his grandfather, precipitates a terrible accident. Kimi must learn to live apart from Melody, and Tai must learn to deal with the hostility of those in the small community who equate him with the cursed house. Meanwhile Tirea, the lonely teenage girl in whom Kimi senses a kindred spirit, finds fragile understanding with the outcast Tai. ‘I'm bad luck,’ says he. ‘But when I look at you,’ she replies, ‘I see light.’ The muted frankness with which the characters in this film feel out the bonds of connection is piercingly direct.

I cannot think of another New Zealand film in which the natural world is such a living entity as this – or in which animal life is so integral. The lightest of musical scores adds its quiet descant to nature's ebb and flow to remind us that the most meaningful messages are often not shouted, but whispered. — BG