David Whittet's Blog
Family Physician and Film Maker

Armageddon

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Mark’s Joker costume was much admired at the Armageddon Expo with many requests for photographs!

We have stopped in Christchurch for a couple of days on the way to Gisborne as Mark and Rebecca were both passionate about going to the Armageddon Expo. A sci-fi themed event, with some of Mark and Rebecca’s heroes as guest celebrities, including Sylvester McCoy, the seventh Doctor Who, Christopher Paolini, author of Eragon and Colleen Clinckenbeard, a voice artist for Dragon Ball Z, who (on camera) declared Mark’s Joker costume to be awesome.

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Mark and Rebecca with Sylvester McCoy, the seventh Doctor in “Doctor Who”

St Kevin's College Drama Festival 2012

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The curtain call for Pinocchio at “Fantasy Furore!”, St Kevin’s College Drama Festival 2012

Tonight Mark starred as Pinocchio at the St Kevin’s College Drama Festival. Over the last couple of weeks all my free time seems to have been taken up transporting Mark to Oamaru for rehearsals. How wonderful to see all that work come to fruition tonight!

We were treated to an evening of magic, drama and intrigue with each of St Kevin’s College’s houses producing a play under the umbrella theme of Fantasy Furore!

Whilst all four productions were full of sparkle and good humour, Treacy House’s Pinocchio was the standout production of the evening. All those hours of rehearsal paid off as Mark played Pinocchio to perfection, with an endearing balance of youthful innocence and impulse, as Pinocchio faced trials and temptations in his journey to become a real boy.

Pinocchio was judged the overall winner of the evening by the adjudicator, Janet Hammond-Tooke and Mark was awarded the Felicity Irvine Trophy for Most Promising Actor.

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Mark won the Felicity Irvine Trophy for Most Promising Actor tonight for his performance as Pinocchio.

The Bishop's Shield

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Mark was selected for the St Kevin’s College debating team for the prestigious Bishop’s Shield this weekend.

The Bishop’s Shield is a coveted trophy competed for annually by Catholic schools in the Dunedin Diocese for debating, scripture reading, public speaking and drama.

St Kevin's College retained the Bishop's Shield this weekend, and I was very proud to see Mark participating in this distinguished event.

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Mark with the Bishop’s Shield Trophy following St Kevin’s College’s victory this weekend

Waitaki Valley School Swimming Sports

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We are so fortunate to have such a wonderful school at Kurow and it is great to see how the local community is always there to support the school and our children.

Today, the Kurow community turned out en masse for the Waitaki Valley School swimming sports and were rewarded with some amazing talent from our young people and a true sporting spirit. I was delighted to see Rebecca achieve two awards and a place in the inter school swimming sports.

A Surprise Birthday Party

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It was my birthday yesterday and Won’s birthday is tomorrow, so Won hosted a joint birthday party for us tonight. It was wonderful to catch up with so many old friends and we had a wonderful night together. Thank you so much Won for a birthday which I will never forget!

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A treck 11 years in the making!

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During a break in production meetings today, Mark and I were location scouting at the Waiherere domain. I was telling Mark how I used to take him there regularly when he was about 2 years old to play on the slide and the swings and then we would walk along the waterfall trail, which went deep into the bush. We never made it to the waterfall; despite the young Mark’s protestations of “Come on, Daddy!”

Eleven years on, little has changed! I was flagging but Mark kept up the pressure, “Come on Daddy, we must make it to the waterfall!”

This time we did make it to the end of the trail. And if the waterfall did not have the power of there Rere falls, it made up for it with its peaceful, secluded setting deep in the bush.

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Return to Gisborne

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One of the joys of filming The Amiri & Aroha trilogy has been the regular visits back to Gisborne. We are in Gisborne now for a fortnight, completing the shooting of Amiri’s Child and filming a promotion for the third film for our forthcoming IndieGoGo fundraising campaign. It is an opportunity for Ooy, Mark and Rebecca to catch up with old friends as well as our wonderful cast and crew on the films.

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Mark stars in Waitaki Valley School Play

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Waitaki Valley School presented their end of year production today with the thought provoking play Home for Christmas. Both Mark and Rebecca had parts in the play and rehearsals have taken up a considerable amount of their time recently. Indeed, Mark learnt his lines for my film Amiri’s Child alongside those for Home for Christmas.

It was an amazingly polished production for a junior school play and I admire tremendously the school’s courage in presenting such a challenging piece of drama. The entire ensemble cast were exceptional, so much talent. I shall remember this for my next casting call.

Mark was a real star today and led the production. Afterwards Mark gave his valedictory speech to the school and had everyone spellbound. A very proud moment.

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Mark giving his farewell speech to Waitaki Valley School

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Rebecca receives an award for good citizenship

A Successful Netball Season for Rebecca

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Rebecca concluded her very successful netball season with an award for the most improved player. This has been tremendous for Rebecca and a wonderful start to her life down here in Kurow. Congratulations Rebecca!

World Cup Fever hits Kurow

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We are all very proud in Kurow that All Blacks Captain Ritchie McCaw comes form Kurow and played his first rugby with the Kurow Rugby Club.

In honour of the All Black’s success in the Rugby World Cup, in place of Kurow’s traditional straw family, we have our own special tribute from “Ritchie McCaw Country”.

Rebecca is player of the day again!

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Another very proud day for me as Rebecca was player of the day again for the Kurow netball team for the second time in this season. Rebecca has developed tremendously as a netball player and her teamwork and performance today was excellent. A well deserved award.

A Photographer's Paradise!

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Armed with my Canon Digital SLR Camera, I set out to capture something of the magic of the winter wonderland that is all around us in Kurow. Today was the best of winter, polar blast has eased, leaving a sharp crisp today with a beautiful blue sky. This seems to be so typical of winter days in Kurow.

I headed up Cattle Creak Road to the Awakino Ski-field and came home with a portfolio of stunning images.

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Polar Blast

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A polar blast has New Zealand within its grips, with record snow falls throughout the country. Kurow has been remarkably shielded from environmental extremes this winter but could not escape the force of the current cold snap.

Rural general practice is particularly susceptible to the problems of such severe weather. My practice at Kurow extends over a huge and remote area, including the Lindis Pass which is over two hours drive from Kurow. With roads blocked by snow and treacherous in the ice, getting to patients in their hour of need can be a tremendous challenge.

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Ooy and Rebecca made the most of the snow, creating a very chic snowman in our front garden! Coming from a hot country like Thailand, Ooy is always thrilled to see the snow.

How a family evening watching a Blu ray movie became a night class at film school!

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How does a family evening watching a Blu-Ray disc become a night class in film making? By turning on the director’s commentary!

Today’s DVD’s and Blu-Ray discs, with their extensive behind the scenes material and director’s commentaries are essential learning material for up and coming film makers and a valuable if unofficial film school. The extended versions of The Lord of the Rings trilogy included appendices which charted the making of the films in extraordinary detail. Whilst watching King Kong tonight, Peter Jackson’s director’s commentary I picked up so many valuable tips, including an important consideration for Amiri’s Child: Peter Jackson always has his principal cast available for a week during post production to reshoot any scenes which are not working in the editing. This would be extremely valuable for my work and something I hope to adopt, starting with Amiri’s Child.

Life gained, life lost

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I feel I am just beginning to get my life back after the completion of Amiri & Aroha, which has so dominated the past eighteen months!

I have reclaimed some more family time to explore the wonderful Waitaki Valley, which is so spectacular with the bright crisp winter days we have been having recently. I have also been able to give more time to my project to develop family medicine in Cambodia, making preparations and video conferencing with potential supporters.

Who was it said that success was a double-edged word? Certainly, the success of Amiri & Aroha in international competition has both inspired me and propelled me into the next production. My head is buzzing with the storyline of Amiri’s Child, the next chapter in the Amiri & Aroha trilogy and a companion piece to Amiri & Aroha. I believe I have another really compelling story in my mind and I have been battling to get this down on paper and shape the script.

The creative impulse is a very hard force to resist...

Read more about the first recce for Amiri’s child on the Amiri & Aroha official blog.

Stranded in the Snow in Dunedin!

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We had decided to make the Peer Group meeting at the Otago Peninsula into a family weekend in Dunedin. As we indulged in some retail therapy at the Meridian Shopping Mall on Sunday morning, the snow suddenly start to fall and the northern motorway out of Dunedin was closed. In an amazingly short space of time, the snow brought Dunedin to a standstill and the roads impassable.

With this came the realization that we would be unable to get home and we were forced to spend another two nights in Dunedin. But every cloud has a silver lining and Ooy, Mark and Rebecca had a wonderful time playing in the snow!

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Peer Group Meeting on the Otago Peninsula

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I belong to a rural Peer Review Group and we meet by teleconference every month. This is a tremendously important for rural general practitioners, providing professional and collegial support. In addition to our teleconferences, we have face to face and social meetings and today we met at Penny Kagan’s house on the Otago Peninsula. This provides an opportunity to get to know each other and our families.

After a Continuing Medical Education (CME) session on domestic violence we had a shared lunch and an energetic walk oner the Otago Peninsula to Lanarch Castle with Penny as our guide.

It is a beautiful setting and the views from Penny’s house are magnificent.

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Waitaki Valley in Winter

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The Waitaki Valley has a special magic in wintertime, especially on a crisp and clear day like today. With the hectic pace of life recently, it has been hard to find the time to truly explore the region as we had planned when we first came to Kurow! Even today’s family outing had an ulterior motive, a recce to look at possible locations for my next film...

But there was time during the day to be still and reflect on the majesty of the snow clad mountains and the vast lakes. Both my children have developed a keen interest in photography and it is great to see them honing their skills with such magnificent scenery!

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See our Waitaki Valley in Winter Photo Gallery.

Mark's Speech

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I took time out from work at lunchtime to watch Mark give his speech at Waitaki Valley School today. The speeches are an extremely important part of the school curriculum and Mark has been working really hard on his presentation on alien life in the universe.

Mark delivered his speech brilliantly, engaging the audience with both humor and passionate argument. I was so proud of Mark as I listened to his speech and saw how much the audience were enjoying it.

Mark won the award for the Year 8 Individual Speech Competition. So many people told me afterwards how much they had appreciated Mark’s speech, one even suggested he was a Prime Minister in the making!

Mark Speech Award

As a footnote, Mark went on to represent Waitaki Valley School in the regional schools competition, held in Oamaru on 1 July 2011. He won third place in the region, a tremendous achievement.

Rebecca is Player of the Day

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Rebecca has had a great week. On Friday she won an award in the regional schools BP Challenge for innovative design.

Then on Saturday, Rebecca was today’s Kurow Netball Team captain and was awarded player of the day.

Congratulations, Rebecca!

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Elephant Rocks

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Life has been so hectic recently, with the completion of Amiri & Aroha and the excitement of our Best Shorts competition success, that we have not had the chance to explore the Kurow area as we had planned when we arrived here in January. With the Queen’s Birthday long weekend off duty, we set out to explore the beautiful Waitaki Valley.

High on our list was a visit to the Elephant Rocks near Duntroon. This magnificent site was used as the location for Aslam’s camp in Andrew Adamson’s film of The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. The location has so much atmosphere; you can almost feel the presence of Aslam and the White Witch hiding behind the rocks!

It is wonderful news that Andrew Adamson is returning to our district to shoot his new film Mister Pip in Oamaru in August. This is great news for Oamaru and the Waitaki region. I do hope to have the opportunity to see this great director at work.

Andrew Adamson, who brought us Shrek as well as The Chronicles of Narnia, is a Kiwi icon and something of an unsung hero. It will be great to have him back home in New Zealand. Regarding Mister Pip, Adamson says he started chasing the rights for the book immediately after reading it. "I read it on a flight back to LA and I actually got to the other end and started chasing the rights. It's about the power of imagination, about the power of story. It's about the power of being able to use your imagination to overcome obstacles."

I am really looking forward to Mister Pip.

Official Opening of Waitaki Valley School

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Today was a most important for our community, with the official opening of the Waitaki Valley School.

We are so fortunate to have such a wonderful school here at Kurow, with a state of the art building which was formally opened today. But it is the people that make it such a tremendous school and it has been a pleasure to see how everyone has gone out of their way to make Mark and Rebecca feel at home in their new school.

One gem from the speeches that I will not forget: the Mayor asked the children why we have two ears but only one mouth - because we need to listen more than we need to speak!

If it was an important day for the community, it was an especially proud day for me as Mark was chosen to speak at the ceremony and introduce the children’s songs. So many people commented on how well he spoke, that he took his time and looked at the audience whilst he was speaking. I felt so proud of him.

Swimming Tuna

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Mark was very excited to have his painting Swimming Tuna displayed in the Kurow Art Exhibition this weekend.

Mark’s picture was exhibited at the exhibition as the best work of his class at Waitaki Valley School.

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House Captain

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Mark and Rebecca have made a tremendous start at their new school.

Mark has been appointed both House Captain and School Traffic Safety Team Officer which is a wonderful achievement for him. I am very proud of him!

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A New School for Mark & Rebecca

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Mark and Rebecca have their first day at their new school today, the Waitaki Valley School.

The past few weeks have been a challenge for me, settling in to a new job. Now Mark and Rebecca face a similar learning curve with their new school and new friends.

Exploring Kurow and the Waitaki Valley

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We have been looking forward to exploring Kurow and the Waitaki Valley since our visit last September and with our first weekend here we haven’t wasted any time. For me it was a voyage of rediscovery, driving trough the valley from Kurow, past the mighty hydroelectric dams and the lakes to Otematata and Omarama and on to Twizel and the high country. It felt like coming home...

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Salmon Fishing in Twizel!
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Ooy and Mark exploring the High Country Salmon Farm between Omarama and Twizel. Waitaki Valley promises to be a culinary delight!

Our Arrival in Kurow

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A New Year and a new beginning...

Kurow’s renowned Straw Family greeted us as we arrived in Kurow today. I remember taking photographs of this icon of the Kurow summer when I first came here in January 1995.

Kurow has drawn me back after all these years and today marks an exciting new start for both me professionally and for my family.

Sixteen years on, little seems to have changed as we explored Kurow.

It feels good to be back in Kurow and I look forward to the challenges ahead.

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Our Last Night in Gisborne

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This weekend will be unforgettable for many reasons...

Last night, New Year’s Eve, we had the first private preview of Amiri & Aroha with our special friends Margaret Thorpe and Derek Allen. It felt almost unreal to see my film on the screen, it has been a dream for so long.

But by far the happiest aspect of the private screening was how much my wife Ooy enjoyed the film. This was so important to me, especially as our life as been turned upside down by the film and Ooy never once complained. Indeed, Ooy really appreciated being involved in film, playing a wedding guest on the final day of shooting.

Today marked our last night in Gisborne after nearly sixteen years. We celebrated in style at Fettuccine Brothers Italian Restaurant. I took a moment to reflect on how many milestones and special occasions we have celebrated at Fettuccine’s during our time in Gisborne.

Every year since the New Millennium, we have spent the evening of New Year’s Day at the Gisborne First Day, First Night celebrations, culminating in a dramatic fireworks extravaganza. There was a definite feeling of saddens for our last firework display in Gisborne!

Click here to see our album of this special night

Pianos, Packing and Post Production!

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Packing up at Te Karaka: Farewell to my pianos. I had decided that my two pianos were both too large and to fragile to travel to Kurow and I had decided to give them to Kristel Day as a token of appreciation for her work on the film.
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Whilst I knew that my pianos were going to good homes, there was a twinge of sadness as I watched them being loaded onto the truck.
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The timing of the move to Kurow and the completion of the film turned into something of a nightmare. The delays in production, largely as a result of the Hobbit Factor had put us so far behind schedule that the editing was now being squeezed into the time I had set aside for packing up for the move.

I had so hoped to have the film completed in good time so that the move to Kurow would not be a rush, but that just was not to be. The next few days will be a juggling act to get everything finished!

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Post Production sandwiched between boxes - a race against time to finish both the film and the packing! It is strange and almost surreal to see our lives and possessions packed up in boxes!
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Working with Tia at on the opening music track at the Turanga FM studios. Just one of the many tasks I must complete in the next few days! Tia and I had such wonderful ideas for the music of the film yet here we were in a rush to get the recording finished. And this song is so important, our waiata, or welcome to the film, the first sound the audience will hear as the lights go down and the film starts!

Palm Springs Medical Centre Christmas Party

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I have had a magical week working at Palm Springs Medical Centre in Papamoa. I have been working here part time over the past few weeks, in between completing my film Amiri & Aroha, developing the Wonca Cambodia project, RNZCGP Council in Wellington and all the other commitments which my life so interesting!

This week at Papamoa has been so special because Mark came with me and we had such an awesome time together. Christmas shopping at the Bayfair Centre after clinics and Mark was Father Christmas - and life and soul of the party - at the Medical Centre’s Christmas party this evening!

View the gallery of pictures from the Christmas party!

Family Visit to Kurow

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It was at Kurow in January 1995 that I first experience rural practice. I did a locum for Dr John Chambers, who was the Kurow GP at that time.

Rural practice has been a passion for me since that date. I have worked for over 15 years at a rural practice in Te Karaka, held the Rural Portfolio on the RNZCGP Executive and worked on the international Wonca Working Party on Rural Practice.

Back in 1995, I little realized that I would have the opportunity to come back and work at Kurow. Some places cast a magical spell on you and I have always wanted to come back to Kurow.

We have spent the last few days on a family visit to Kurow before we move here in the New Year.

Click here to see our photos of the visit to Kurow

Farewell to Te Karaka

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After fifteen years at Te Karaka, today was my last working day at the Waikohu Medical Centre. It has been a tremendous privilege to live and work in the Waikohu Community and I am so grateful to everyone who has made my family and I feel so welcome and so much a part of this wonderful community.

It was inevitably a very sad and highly emotional day as I had to say goodbye to so many people who have been so much a part of my life over these fifteen years. The community held a farewell party for me at the Te Karaka Fire Station this afternoon, which was a moving and very touching ceremony.

In my valedictory address to the people of Te Karaka, I recalled my very first morning at Te Karaka, on 1st May 1995. Each successive patient that morning addressed me in French: “Bonjour docteur!” “Comment allez-vous?” I began to think I had stumbled on a small outpost of French Polynesia when one patient thankfully said: “Would you mind awfully if we continued in English?” I later discovered that the locum who had worked at the clinic before I arrived had mistakenly told them that I was French!

This little anecdote for me sums up so much of what is wonderful about Te Karaka. A community that would take the trouble to learn some French just to make their new doctor feel at home, that is something very, very special.

Click here to view all the photos from the farewell parties at the Te Karaka Fire Station and the Bushmere Arms

New Directions in My Life

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After fifteen wonderful years at Te Karaka, it is time for new challenges.

Leaving Te Karaka has been a very difficult decision, but the opportunity to pursue two projects that are both very close to my heart has proved to great to resist.

I have secured funding through the World Organization of Family Doctors for my project to develop family medicine in a rural part of Cambodia. This work promises to make a real difference to some of the most disadvantaged communities on our planet.

I have also promised myself that I will have another film in the can by the end of 2010. Since my teenage years, film making has been an integral part of my life and I have been a prolific independent film maker over the years. Yet life has been so hectic that it is some years since my last film.

So I am thrilled to be back behind the camera, shooting a distinctly New Zealand story set in the beautiful East Cape which has been my home for these fifteen years.

I am indeed fortunate to be able to realize these two projects which I have dreamt about for so long.

I plan to spend the next six months working on these two projects. The pre-production planing for my new film Amiri & Aroha is almost complete and am currently working on the casting. I hope to start shooting in mid September, shortly after finishing work at Te Karaka. The principal location, the Rere falls, is close to Te Karaka and I am hoping that many of my former patients will be “extras” in the film.

The Cambodia project is also taking shape. I am working with a number of professors of family medicine in Cambodia and hope to progress the work of setting up community clinics in the rural areas of most extreme need by the end of the year.

On completion of these two projects, I am planning to return to rural practice and am currently looking at Kurow, the practice in South Canterbury which first awakened my love of rural practice.

It has been a tremendous privilege to be the doctor at Te Karaka for the past fifteen years and these have proved some of the happiest and most challenging years of my professional life. Both my children were born during my time at Te Karaka and we have always felt a part of the local community. I extent my most sincere and heartfelt thanks to the people of Te Karaka for making us so welcome.

Doing Something Nice “Just Because” Mark on the front page of the Gisborne Herald

Mark on the Front Cover of the Gisborne Herald

Doing Something Nice “Just Because” - Mark on the front page of the Gisborne Herald.

I was so proud of Mark today. His photograph was on the front page of the Gisborne Herald for his contribution to helping the family of a bereaved friend.

The Next Peter Jackson?

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Mark worked closely with me on the promotional film for Amiri & Aroha, as my assistant director. Mark took on more and more responsibility, shooting the scenes where I narrate the story on camera at the Rere falls. In this clip, I am working with Mark as we shoot a scene with Rebecca as the young Aroha.

Watching Mark at work, I really believe I could be looking at the next Peter Jackson. Mark has already made several highly accomplished animation films, using both stop frame animation techniques and traditional drawings. He has an exciting, raw talent, waiting to break free.