review - mandy hager
Last week I had the great pleasure of watching the 2017 NZ documentary Kobi, by the talented and passionate film-makers Andrea Bosshard and Shane Loader. Creators of the wonderful award-winning The Great Maiden’s Blush, this deeply personal documentary explores the life of Bosshard’s father, Kobi, a Swiss-born pioneer of contemporary New Zealand jewellery.
Through the use of archival footage, home-movies, and interviews with the 78-year-old Kobi and his family and friends, the film builds up a picture of a man who brought his ancestral knowledge of goldsmithing to a 1960s New Zealand still very caught up in the conservative colonial mindset and quietly turned the idea of jewellery on its head. He showed us how to transform jewellery from decoration or artefact to art, bringing the old and new worlds together through pieces that pushed the known boundaries and expressed a freer age.
But the film is far more than a snapshot of a craftsman. It is a deeply emotional and immersive journey into the life and philosophy of a man who says, “the work we do comes out of the life we live, so we have to have a life to start with.” And his is a life filled with an abiding love of the outdoors, and New Zealand’s rugged natural landscapes most especially, and of family, sharing, warmth, activism and community. It is also a meditation on human creativity and love.
Shane Loader’s cinematography is breath-taking in itself, a love-letter to the environment, shot with a real artist’s eye, and a study in capturing the essential emotions of those participating in the film. Faces are explored for their inner beauty. Jewellery is shot with a lingering respect for form. The music, too, is chosen with extraordinary sympathy for the overall feel of the project, adding a whole additional emotional layer to the film. It stirred my senses and took me back to childhood, when I first heard such classical masterpieces, and as the film went on I realised that, although it is the story exploring a unique man, it is also the story of my childhood — and the childhoods of all of us who were raised in households touched by immigrant European sensibilities at the time.
Andrea Bosshard’s recollections of her rich cultural immersion through opera, orchestra, drama, art, politics — and a heritage very foreign from the insular, staid and bland New Zealand of the 60s and early 70s — and Kobi’s reflections on his uprooting from Switzerland and planting of new roots here, deeply resonated with me. My own Austrian refugee father was reflected back out at me, reminding me how lucky my siblings and I were to have such richness gifted to us in our early years. I recognised the unguarded warmth and the active desire of such immigrants to not only enrich their new chosen country with their imported culture, but also to embrace their new home and its culture, and to pour their energies into ensuring it developed into a freer, fairer, and more vibrant version of their tradition-bound birthplaces. If ever an argument is needed for the continued welcome of foreigners to our shores, ‘Kobi’ provides a perfect answer. The wave of European immigrants (and of course, many other cultures) transformed a New Zealand stuck in the cultural doldrums forever after.
Towards the end of the film, Kobi and his wife Patricia (an extraordinary woman in her own right) return to Switzerland with the filmmakers to visit a dying friend, and we are presented with a beautiful meditation on friendship, family, aging and the notion of ‘home.’ More than once my eyes welled up.
I urge you to go and see it, not only to support these excellent independent film-makers, but to share this beautiful life journey. You will be enriched too.