Film review: Compelling New Zealand documentary ‘She Shears’ celebrates skill and competitive spirit of female shearers
A must-see New Zealand documentary follows five female sheep shearers on their journey to the Gold Shears.
Review: Emma Rawson, Film stills Rebecca McMillan
Sheep shearing is bloody hard yacka. Adult sheep weigh in at approximately 65 kg and they kick and struggle to escape the shearer’s comb. It is hot, sweaty, daggy and dirty in a woolshed however, for the five women starring in the New Zealand documentary She Shears, shearing has an addictive quality. “I just really like sheep,” says Hazel Wood, a junior shearer from Ruawai who currently shears 150 in a day but aspires to shear 300.
Veteran shearer and former Women’s World Record holder (541 lambs in nine hours) Jills Angus Burney reckons she has “sheep sh*t for brains”. When an orthopaedic surgeon told her that her shearing days were over she forged a second career as a High Court barrister and solicitor, but she can’t resist the pull of the wool. Each year she returns for another crack at the Golden Shears, the shearing and wool handling competition in Masterton and Oscars of the sheep shearing industry.
There’s no separate category for women at the Golden Shears. They compete alongside the men.“I always try to make it not guys vs. gals, just competitors vs. competitors,” says Emily Welch who overtook Jills’ record in 2007, shearing 648 lambs in nine hours.
Contestants are scored on speed and accuracy with points deducted for nicks and inaccurate clips. The high-speed wool handling competition measures accuracy sorting the wool – a blur of wool throws, floor sweeping, bundling and a shake down.
First-time documentary director James Nicol (formerly a production assistant on The Hobbit movies) shows he’s a gifted filmmaker. He gives the back-breaking competition a magical quality without deflecting from the skill and strength of the female competitors. Yes, the women are competing in a male-dominated field, but this film never makes the story about the men nor measures the genders against each other. It’s a celebration of women at the top of their sport.
Central Otago shearer and wool handler Pagan Karauria’s return to the Golden Shears following a car accident that killed two of her friends is told with beautiful restraint. This is a heartfelt documentary packed with humour – a must-see at the New Zealand International Film Festival.
The New Zealand International Film Festival finishes in Auckland on 12 August and tours New Zealand. Visit www.nziff.co.nz for dates.
She Shears 79 minutes
Georgina Allison Conder, Ainsley Gardiner
Financed with support from Rural Women New Zealand.