9 Nov 2018

Kaikōura: A Big Year – doco tells human stories from the post-earthquake rebuild

From Jesse Mulligan, 1–4pm, 1:39 pm on 9 November 2018

In November 2016, one of the biggest earthquakes in our recorded history struck the coastal South Island town of Kaikōura. Two people died, buildings were destroyed and huge landslides on to State Highway 1 cut off Kaikoura from the rest of country.

Damian Christie's documentary Kaikōura: A Big Year explores the impact of the quake on the town and its people, as well as the thousands of workers who travelled there to work on the reconstruction.

Kaikōura: A Big Year airs on TVNZ 1 at 730pm, Sunday 11 November (during the Sunday programme).

Damian tells Jesse Mulligan that Kaikōura: A Big Year came about after he got a phone call last April from a colleague who was working on the reconstruction.

"She said 'someone has got to come and film this. There's stuff going on… behind the orange cones... that you just wouldn't believe. The size of these slips, the amount of work that's going on."

Damien, who works for the Aotearoa Science Agency, travelled to Kaikōura and got a bit of work filming Facebook videos for the NZ Transport Authority and KiwiRail.

But he soon realised one of the biggest rebuilds in New Zealand history wasn't going to be adequately documented by short Facebook videos.

Although immense feats of engineering are the film's backdrop, Kaikōura: A Big Year is really a series of human stories, he says.

"Very much the doco is about the people [working in Kaikōura] who had to leave their families and the residents of Kaikōura who were cut off for that year."

After the earthquake, the town's tourism industry – previously worth over $100 million a year – went down by 90 percent overnight, Damien says.

Local cafe and restaurant owners who didn't have tourists to feed were employed to make packed lunches subsidised dinners for the 1,800-odd North Canterbury Transport Infrastructure Recovery (NCTR) workers who descended on the town from all over the country.

The workers were known as the 'Orange Army' because of their orange high-vis suits.

"These people were from out of town and away from their families for months at a time. That puts a lot of strain on relationships" Damien says.

Sacrifice is a big theme of Kaikōura: A Big Year, but the doco ends with triumph, as State Highway 1 reopens just over a year after the earthquake.

As one of the main worksites is Ohau Point – home to the famous fur seal colony which is currently closed to the public – the film also features plenty of cute seals, he says.

Two years on from the Kaikoura earthquake, Checkpoint reporter Logan Church returns to the town to speak to business owners whose lives were changed when the 7.8 quake ripped the earth apart: