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the man on the island


director: simon mark-brown (the catch)


REVIEWER: lyall carter

New Zealand documentary explores why Colin McLaren, an artistic and philosophical 77-year-old, chose to live an off-grid and isolated life four decades ago on the tiny island of Rakino.

Growing up in a small town you always knew not only your neighbours but people on your street. It wasn't merely knowing them in a ‘Gidday, nice day’ kinda way but you knew their story and they knew yours. You took the time to talk and to get to know them. 


In our busy world The Man on the Island serves us with an hour long conversation, a chat over the fence, a getting to know the story of an ordinary but remarkable man. 


Forty years in the making. One man, Colin McLaren, 77 years old, artistic, philosophical and erudite and one tiny island, Rakino, isolated with its own small community in the Hauraki Gulf, off the grid, challenging, and stunningly beautiful. The epitome of gorgeous New Zealand. 


Having bought the land in 1980 Colin finally fled to Rakino Island ten years later. A romantic dream worthy of Robinson Crusoe, but Colin is his own man.


An Elam student, graphic artist and photographer, once very much part of the Auckland city art and movie scene, we follow his purchase of a plot of land on a remote island with nineteen permanent residents, the dreams realised and abandoned, the projects realised and abandoned, and the sometimes absurd, are told in his own words with humour and insight. He has learnt a lot from isolation and is happy to share. 


From the outset you are struck by the beauty of Rakino. Colin helps us to understand its past history, going back two hundred and fifty years, its present and gives insight into its future. As well as Colin’s story threaded throughout the film are his various ‘projects’; ways of making money from movie proprietor all the way to ‘uba’ driver. 


Colin muses about all kinds of things from climate change, cities, women and everything in between. Being seventy seven years old and living on a remote island has given Colin plenty of time to ponder, and his thoughts are both inventive and confronting. 


One of the most powerful scenes was Colin’s trips into Auckland city where he mourned the sense of not knowing the faces of people in the streets like he used to and comments that people just look straight through him. This scene not only revealed his isolation from the world and from others, but painfully illustrates some people's experiences in the city and as an older person.


The Man on the Island is an invitation to another era where we took time, stopped and listened to the life story of our neighbour over the fence in all of its beauty and oddity.


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