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DIRECTOR’S STATEMENT – CUP OF DREAMS
“May 15, 2007. For the first time in thirteen years, I’m going home…”
New Zealand looked just how I remembered it from the clouds above – a lonely vigil hectored by rain and wind. I drank the vista in with grateful eyes as flight QF141 bucked through the roiling mists tearing off the Pacific Ocean. Tears began to roll freely down my cheeks when I saw a mighty hunk of black sand carving out the waves below: it was the west coast of the North Island, a place where I’d spent countless days skylarking and shivering as a child. I’d soon find out if my memories of this country were the real thing or just rosy boyhood fantasies. As for why I was going back to New Zealand, after becoming a naturalised Australian at the age of nine – I didn’t and still don’t have a rational answer for you. All I had was a gut feeling that I was going to make a movie about the All Blacks – New Zealand’s iconic and almighty rugby team. The truth is, in deciding how I would follow up my first documentary ‘Darling! The Pieter-Dirk Uys Story,’ I’d done little more than follow the siren call of the All Blacks’ famous haka.
In 2005 and 2006, every time the All Blacks lined up on the field to perform the haka, eyes rolling, fingers fluttering, adrenaline surging, I’d get a rash of goose bumps over my whole body. My central nervous system would blaze up. My eyes would brim and spill. Nothing jolted me to my soul like their haka. That’s not uncommon of course – the haka is the quintessential New Zealand moment, a war cry-come-performance piece which cuts across Pakeha, Maori and Polynesian lines, making all the individual players, and by proxy the nation’s people, into one visceral, thrashing black whole. But I knew there was now something deeply personal going on. I’d been out of New Zealand most of my young life, and loved my existence in Sydney, with its relentlessly upbeat weather, golden land-edge and my girlfriend and Mum and sister Rewa all living there. But evidently, buried underneath the ululations of the haka, there was an invitation to return and find out what exactly I’d left behind when I moved away from Auckland in 1995. The keening strains of Ka Mate were like a challenge to me. Come back.
So I went home.
I was determined to shoot a documentary from scratch about the All Blacks and their all-encompassing role in New Zealand society – as idols, political symbols, role models, heroes and villains. If they meant this much to an expatriate like me, surely they were the surging lifeblood of New Zealand in day-to-day life. My method would involve filming the build-up to the 2007 Rugby World Cup, interviewing rugby fanatics and also working my way into the All Blacks camp somehow. My story would have a natural beginning, middle and end thanks to the climax of the World Cup – that year’s biggest sporting event – and I’d film the aftermath of the global tournament as the denouement of my story. I knew it would be a big story: should the All Blacks win the World Cup for the first time in twenty years a national hex would be lifted. Should they lose – which the global rugby media prophesied as a virtual impossibility – you had to wonder if Aotearoa would literally sink silently beneath the Pacific Rim. In the passion stakes, New Zealand is to Rugby like Brazil is to Football or Canada is to Hockey. Actually, the truth is that Kiwi’s are more obsessed than the two aforementioned examples. The fact that New Zealand’s All Blacks, who are the most successful sporting team over 100 years with a winning record of 75%, had failed at every World Cup since 1987 is one of the greatest enigmas in world sport. All and sundry thought this vexed run would end in 2007.
It’s now 2011. The movie I set out to make, ‘Cup of Dreams’, is finished. And yes, the film is about the All Blacks… mostly. But it’s about a lot more. Something amazing happened along the way – not only did the All Blacks lose in the Quarter Finals of the 2007 World Cup, creating a national epidemic of soul-searching that was potent grist for my film, but I discovered an unexpected new character in the story: my Dad. To explain: my father Rod Shaw was living in New Zealand when I moved back in 2007. I lived with him. I hadn’t spent proper, extended time with him in years, since our family broke up in 2000. He became an important voice in the story I was filming – in some ways, the main character. And now in the finished version of the film, sitting alongside the overarching narrative of the All Blacks and their quest to win a first Rugby World Cup since 1987, is the painfully honest story of my estranged relationship with him, and how it fuelled my passion for Rugby. I didn’t do this for reasons of personal catharsis – putting my own family on film was the toughest thing I’ve ever done. But you have to look into your own closet to get to the heart of any human condition. Exploring my relationship with Dad taught me everything I ever sought to know about how a sports team can come to feel like family.
The reason that we can fall in love with a team – the reason the Red Sox or The Maple Leafs or The Patriots make our hearts pound with love and pride, as though they are our brothers – goes far beyond blind geographic parochialism. Sport is deeply personal. It offers us something else that can easily go missing in the 21st century – a social glue, a connective fabric that spans around the world, cutting across time and space. We all just want to belong. That’s why we wear our team’s colours like it’s our own skin.
What you’ll see in ‘Cup of Dreams’ is a mosaic of characters and voices, from a marketing guru to a Prime Minister, from an international coach to an aspiring high school athlete, from the most famous Rugby player in the world to a working-class fan from Papatoetoe. All these people are processing issues of nationalism, obsession and belonging. You’ll see real people struggling to understand the immensity of a cultural phenomenon that sometimes eclipses all other aspects of life in New Zealand. But most importantly, I’m hopeful that no matter where you come from or who your team is, you’ll see something else in this narrative of identity: yourself.
- Julian Shaw, 2011