Shot over four years, This Way of Life is an intimate portrait of Peter Karena and his family. Masterful in the saddle and Hollywood handsome, Peter lives by an internal code of values and honor largely lost in modern times. Though European, Peter was adopted into a Maori family and is Maori in all but skin. He is a horse-whisperer, philosopher, hunter, and builder, a husband and father. Despite seemingly overwhelming challenges, Peter refuses to compromise. Especially troubling to Peter is his broken relationship with his adopted father – a malevolent man who refuses to leave him alone.
Peter’s wife Colleen Karena (Ngati Maniapoto) is the keeper of her family’s taonga tuku iho (heritage). A true matriarch, Colleen sees family as the center of the universe and mothering as the world’s most important job. As the film progresses, we discover her quiet exterior conceals a profound and beautifully articulated approach to parenting resulting in the physical competence and emotional openness of her children.
The film portrays the intimate life of the Karena family. In their early 30’s, Peter and Colleen have six kids and 50 horses. We follow them up into the Ruahine ranges and down to their hidden beach camp. Against these isolated backdrops we explore family relationships, their connection to nature, their keen survival skills and their absolute intimacy with each other and their horses.
We watch as Peter and Colleen celebrate the birth of a child and cope with a late miscarriage. Their attempts to navigate the discord between Peter and his father culminate in the theft of his valuable herd of horses and the burning of their beloved family home. Now homeless, we watch as Peter steers his family toward a new way of living and being. Regardless of their hardships, the Karenas manage to never lose sight of the magic in the everyday.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in the Karena children. Untamed and unafraid, the idea of risk is alien to them. To watch seven-year-old Aurora expertly ride a massive stallion bareback with no more than a rope halter asks us to reexamine our ideas of what children are capable of.
In This Way of Life, the Karenas unite their philosophy with their circumstances, turning hardship into a meaningful and satisfying life.