Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Jess Feast.
For his Movies At Dusk program on 3WBC 94.1FM, Greg spoke to director Jess Feast about this documentary and about the fascinating character of Sister Loyola Galvin
Sister Loyola Galvin is a fascinating character. At 90, she has a healthy attitude and a positive outlook on life. A former nurse and nun, she also tends the vegetable garden and flower garden at the rear of the Home of Compassion convent in New Zealand’s Island Bay, a coastal suburb of Wellington, which has been her home for many years. But she has also led a colourful life, which she shares with the camera in this intimate documentary from New Zealand filmmaker Jess Feast (Cowboys And Communists, etc).
In 2008 Sister Loyola was named New Zealand’s Gardener of the Year for her nurturing way with her garden bed, which brought this sprightly octogenarian to the attention of Feast. After gaining reluctant approval to film her, Feast spent the next year filming Sister Loyola as she lovingly tends her garden and talks at length about her life.
She grew up in the depression, and endured some hard times, particularly as she had a permanently damaged foot following a childhood infection. But even having to walk around on crutches at times hasn’t slowed her down or dampened her enthusiasm for life. “What’s the use of living if you don’t enjoy it?” is her healthy philosophy. She talks with a sense of regret about a former boyfriend who was killed in the war. Galvin talks common sense, and her approach to nurturing the plants in her garden is the same as her approach to her duties as a nurse and as a nun during her long career. There is even a brief reunion with two of the damaged young wards that were raised by the church.
“You don’t lose your humanity when you become a nun,” she says, and Sister Loyola shows how her spirituality, compassion for people, and strong faith have kept her going for over sixty years. She also has a wonderful sense of humour, and there is a great anecdote about how she even became a nurse in the first place. Feast’s gentle probing from the other side of the camera teases out some personal observations and revelations.
But she also speaks with candour as she discusses heavier topics such as the child abuse scandal that has rocked the church, and shares stories about working with orphans and abandoned babies through the church. “If everybody had a shed, there’d be no domestic violence,” she offers at one point.
Gardening With Soul has been beautifully shot by Feast and her three cinematographers. Even though the film covers twelve months, and is broken into four chapters representing each of the season, Feast only spent eight days a season actually filming Sister Loyola and talking to her. But there is a wealth of material and footage, that she edited into shape with the help of Annie Collins (Two Little Boys, Shopping, and who also worked as an assistant editor on two of Peter Jackson ‘s epic Lord Of The Rings films).
The film deals with themes of religion, faith, self-denial, and aging. And although Galvin’s strong character comes across, Gardening With Soul seems way too long for the slim subject matter. As a fifty minute documentary it would have been much sharper and more strongly focused, but at 100 minutes there seems to be a bit of unnecessary padding and the leisurely pace becomes a little tiresome.