Farmer, family man, and—unlikely leftist organiser. Director John Chrisstoffels has compiled a gentle portrait of an ordinary New Zealand farmer capturing extraordinary changes in global twentieth century politics.
Screened as part of NZIFF 2023
Farmer, family man, and—unlikely leftist organiser. Bill Youren gave up a career as a lawyer to live a traditional farmer life in the back-blocks of the Hawke's Bay. He was also a zealous supporter of freedom of speech in a political environment, with the backdrop of the Cold War and the 1951 Waterfront Strike, where anyone labelled a Communist was seen as an existential threat.
Youren documented much of his work via his trusty 8mm camera, including his travels around the world and his DIY approach to farming. Youren was convinced that barriers between peoples and cultures could be removed by open dialogue and mutual respect, and he set about living his life in a way that made such dialogue possible. Youren became a champion for China in New Zealand, including exhibiting some of the cultural artefacts he obtained on his three trips to China (particularly notable in a period when people rarely travelled to China from New Zealand).
Building Bridges: Bill Youren's Vision of Peace is a fascinating account of a man who firmly supported many of the largest social movements in the twentieth century. The centrepiece of the documentary is Youren's footage from his trips to China in the 1950s. With each visit, he documents the subtle changes in how China transformed itself from the ruins of World War II and a brutal Civil War, into one of the dominant twentieth century superpowers. It also captured his growing disillusionment with the way leftist movements shifted over the course of the century. Director John Chrisstoffels has compiled a gentle portrait of an ordinary man capturing extraordinary things. — Brannavan Gnanalingam