Family life in New Zealand. Except that this is no ordinary family: filmmaker Thomas Burstyn spent four years capturing on camera daily life in one Maori household. Peter and Colleen Karena (Ngati Maniapoto) have six children and fifty horses. Peter is in his early thirties and a horse whisperer by trade – as well as a farrier, butcher, saddler, hunter, labourer and philosopher. The life he leads is very close to nature – and this makes him something of an outsider. His life is also unfettered – as is that of his self-confident children. It’s almost as if the word ‘risk’ doesn’t exist for them: barefoot, bareback and without reins or riding hat is for instance the way the Karena’s six-year-old daughter gallops across the New Zealand prairie.
When the family’s house burns down, the parents, their oldest son (eleven-year-old Llewelyn, from whose point-of-view the film is told) and his five younger siblings decide to pitch their tents on a nearby beach. But although their family life appears to become even more idyllic, it is not without its conflicts. The Karenas live in the here and now, in spite of their parents’ traditional gender roles. But while Colleen devotes herself to looking after the family, Peter still has an axe to grind with his father. The film focuses on the way in which he mends this broken relationship and, at the same time, manages to maintain a healthy relationship with his own son, Llewelyn. Some people may think that the Karenas live a life of poverty. But this isn’t true. THIS WAY OF LIFE is a film about freedom.