Gabriel Ponniah, Editor In Chief
ATX Screen Scene
The term “Kiwi” contains multitudes.
For the last century, residents of New Zealand have worn the demonym with pride. The word originates in the native Maori language, having been adopted into regular English use about a century earlier still. Among Americans, it most commonly refers to the round, brown fruit whose fuzz is so reminiscent of its namesake that the two began sharing the term as early as the 1960s. But most of all, a Kiwi is an absurd flightless bird not far off from the aforementioned fruit’s description. Remarkable.
Endemic to the island nation, kiwi have long shared a bond with the New Zealanders who bear its name as national identifier. As a distant observer, I’ve always had a soft spot for these unique, cherubic creatures. Any fan of the Lord of the Rings films knows well how truly blessed New Zealand is with wondrous natural beauty, and I can think of no more appropriate counterpoint to its vast breathtaking landscapes of towering rock, forest, and grassland than a reclusive, rotund little bird with some of the strangest proportions of any creature on the planet. You can’t help but smile at the thought.
As intrinsic as the kiwi to the national identity of New Zealand, however, is the country’s history of colonialism, not unlike its western neighbor and its own troubled relationship with its indegenous populations. The introduction of stoats to the ecosystem decades ago has led to a ravenous invasive predator problem that poses an existential threat to kiwi—and from a creature as insidiously adorable as its prey (though not, perhaps, to the advocate subjects of Growing Up Kiwi).
Writer/director Madeleine Brennan leverages her science communication background to take viewers on a comprehensive journey following a young Haast tokoeka kiwi (the rarest of the kiwi) named Almer as he grows to maturity, evading the danger of stoat attacks. For all my prior infantilizing, kiwi are most vulnerable as chicks, but can hold their own as adults. Once grown, their beak, claws, and temperament make them a fearsome foe to any stoat who would challenge them. As such, the researchers depicted in Growing Up Kiwi brave the jungle in search of kiwi chicks, that they might be raised in safety and returned to the wild once they’re sufficiently developed.
The filmmaking expertise on display is commendable, as this half-hour featurette could easily slot into wildlife network programming for how competent it is. The story is efficient, the subjects compelling, and the editing clear and precise. Perhaps most of all, the spirit of the Kiwis’ devotion to their kiwi brethren, through nicks and cuts from dense foliage as well as from their rescuees themselves, shines through in the final product. The film received an Outstanding Achievement Award for Student Film and Documentary Short—an accolade well-earned by Brennan and company.