HIFF Review: ‘Mt. Zion’

Oct. 10, 2013 | 0 Comments

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REVIEW BY JASON GENEGABUS / jason@staradvertiser.com

Everybody loves Bob Marley. Everywhere you go, it’s the same old story.

Even small town Aotearoa in 1979, where “Mt. Zion” finds a young farm worker named Turei (Stan Walker) who loves the Rastaman vibration so much he’s willing to turn his back on his family and Maori culture in hopes of meeting Mr. Marley himself.


Pacific Showcase

International Premiere

Screens at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 11 and 3:45 p.m. Oct. 13 at Regal Dole Cannery Stadium 18


After yet another long day picking potatoes with his brother and cousins in Pukekohe, the boys sneak out to a nightclub to play an open mic set and discover Marley is heading their way for a concert — and a competition will be held to pick an opening act.

The choice is simple for Turei, who yearns for a life beyond the fields. He must drop everything and get his family’s band, Small Axe, in a position to play alongside Marley. But his brother, Hone (Troy Kingi), is expecting a baby and his father (Temuera Morrison) expects Turei to forget about his childish rock star dreams and focus on farming.

For the most part, “Mt. Zion” tells the timeless story of a small town kid who dreams big and must deal with the consequences of his actions and cultural fallout that results from his mistakes. Cinematographer Fred Renata does a fantastic job of incorporating New Zealand’s natural beauty as a backdrop, from scenic farmland shots to Maori villages that probably haven’t changed much over the last 35 years.

Another highlight is the music featured throughout the 96-minute film. Walker won Australia’s version of “American Idol” in 2009, and his musical talent is front-and-center in multiple performance scenes. Kevin Kaukau, who plays axe-for-hire Booker D — and looks like a Maori version of Carlos Santana — absolutely shreds on guitar every time he’s on screen. Small Axe may be a fictional band, but they could make the jump from screen to stage here in Hawaii and draw huge crowds, a la Katchafire.

Does Small Axe make it? Or will Turei return to his farming ways?

The answer isn’t as simple as it might seem, but “Mt. Zion” director Tearepa Kahi does a good job of providing a satisfying resolution while also celebrating Maori culture and traditions in the process.
Click here for more coverage of the 33rd Hawaii International Film Festival.

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