Film Review: Aunty and the Star People. 5/5 Stars

Jean Nov2014

Jean Watson (1933-2014)

The human world is filled with all kinds of darkness informed by thoughtlessness, ignorance and all round bad behaviour and sometimes one can be subsumed by it all wondering if there is anything good to hold onto. Where is the light?

The light it turns out is everywhere working small miracles of the type that keep the darkness at bay and one of those light bearers is a pragmatic and thoughtful Kiwi writer called Jean Watson. 30 years ago she was travelling across India and at the age of 50 found a new career in Tamil Nadu caring for displaced children.

“I made a commitment to help then went back to New Zealand frightened by the promises I had made.” She overcame her fears and today is part of an organisation that cares for orphans and children of the very poor in an isolated rural district of this sprawling Indian state.

The children are well fed, (Jean constantly reinforces the reality of hunger for the poor and the effect it has on both the mind and body), happy and full of positive dreams for the future. Their educations are provided for, their health needs taken care of and they have somewhere safe to sleep and call home.

Hundreds of children have now passed through the homes that Jean has helped to finance and she bears the honorarium of ‘Aunty’, a greeting she encounters everywhere as she navigates the towns and villages of the region building and maintaining relationships. “She is a saint,” says friend, supporter and fellow Kiwi writer Joy Cowley but to her credit Jean will have nothing of it. “No I am not,” she insists, “I have an ego, I get angry and annoyed at people.” Ok, so she is not faultless but her work is.

“When you devote your life to others everything else becomes unimportant, insubstantial,” muses Jean back in her Wellington pensioners flat partly in reference to her previous career as a writer. “Every time I return home I wonder if that will have been my last trip to India. I am 80 now, that’s the age when you die. That could happen any moment now.”

Jean cuts a sprightly figure and her youthful outlook belies her heavily wrinkled features but she is right of course and has made plenty of provision for the inevitable. Her legacy is an organisation that has grown beyond one single person and is well equipped to carry on without her.

The film concludes and I wipe the tears from the corner of my eyes. The last few years of my life have been confused and rocky and Jean has reminded me of what’s important. No, she is not a saint but she is wise in that laconic and self-deprecating way that Kiwis often are and I am grateful for the experience of this joyous little film. It is has recharged my spirit.

Jean died in December 2014, 3 months after the film was released, her work complete.

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