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Loading Docs: Kusuda

Wednesday 22nd July 2015

Loading Docs is a launching pad for New Zealand short documentaries which has just released 10 new films. We’ll be featuring each of the films and profiling the directors behind them. 

DIRECTOR PROFILE: HENRY OLIVER AND AMBER EASBY

First-time film directors Henry Oliver and Amber Easby explore award-winning winemaker Hiro Kusuda’s philosophical and unique process with their new Loading Docs film.

Arriving in Martinborough with visions of filming idyllic sunny landscapes, the filmmakers were instead hit by an unexpected cyclone.

It threatened to destroy not only Kusuda’s whole crop for the year, but also the film.

“We’ve booked tickets, flights, gear, and crew, and there’s this cyclone coming, and we’re stressing out. But really we’re talking about [losing] a few thousand dollars and Hiro is super calm, and he’s talking about his whole years livelihood,” Oliver says.

“There’s the threat of destruction, yet he’s still got this philosophical approach to finding value in the labour. Therefore he can look into the possible destruction of his crop for the year and remain calm.”

The threat of a cyclone gave the filmmakers a chance to see Kusuda’s personality shine.

“The cyclone was the catalyst for him to reflect on a lot of different things - nature, the fragility of life, not having control over everything - but that’s not necessarily being a bad thing. The cyclone really changed the story,” Easby says.

Hiro Kusuda is not your average winemaker. A graduate of Tokyo’s ivy league Keio University, Kasuda worked for Fujitsu before taking on a diplomatic position in Australia.

His personality and philosophy really shone through when we were spending time with him, and that’s what the film ended up focusing on.

It was when he was in his forties that Kusuda decided he wanted a change of pace. He moved to Germany, where he studied winemaking, before settling in New Zealand.

Kusuda’s meticulous processes have earned him international recognition for his wine, yet Kusuda remains modest – often dodging media requests.

When directors Oliver and Easby heard about Kusuda through a friend, they were instantly intrigued.

“We heard there was this Japanese guy living in Martinborough doing things a little differently, doing everything by hand, and [he] had a really rigorous picking and sorting process,” Easby says.

Oliver and Easby had been interested in Kusuda for a number of years before meeting him. They were drawn to not only his story, but also his unique character.

“What drew us to him was his backstory, and even though that’s not in the film, his backstory translates into a guy who gave up a prestigious, corporate career to find his own way and follow his own path, and that’s reflected in his approach to work and labour,” says Oliver.

After tracking Kusuda down, Easby and Oliver met him to talk about their interests in making a documentary.

“He turned up out of politeness to tell us no, but during the hour we had coffee with him, we won him over. We became more interested in him, not just for his story, but also for his personality, magnetism and attitude,” Oliver says.

“His personality and philosophy really shone through when we were spending time with him, and that’s what the film ended up focusing on. Not his backstory and not his process.”

The next step for Easby and Oliver is to create a full-length documentary about Kusuda.

“The  three minute thing really challenges you and allows you to focus on the story you want to tell and what you want people to walk away thinking.

“We’re going to keep filming with him because we think there’s a larger more complex story we can tell,” Easby says.

Story by Elizabeth Beattie.



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