Fancy something gripping, heart-warming and truly inspirational? No Ordinary Sheila is a wonderful tale following Sheila Natusch’s life: and what an interesting life it was! As a writer, illustrator, natural historian, octagenarian and avid outdoor adventurer.
So, what makes Sheila not so ordinary? Her life was so fascinating that to fit it into the time frame of the movie was a challenge in itself. Having written over 30 books on New Zealand flora and fauna, and New Zealand history and biography, in 2007 Sheila’s services to illustration and writing were recognised by the awarding of the New Zealand Order of Merit. The movie touches on her interesting friendship with Janet Frame and Janet’s promise to Sheila to keep her letters in case one day she became well known – which they both did. Sheila was a regular sailor along the shores of Owhiro Bay, in the smallest of crafts: an inflatable dingy with a makeshift sail. In her 60s she also went as crew on three voyages of the Spirit of New Zealand sailing ship, an experience usually reserved for those in their late teens and early twenties. Delve into this adventurous woman’s life, who didn’t let anything hold her back, including age and illness. Follow your dreams and allow your passion to grow, there’s a lot to learn from Sheila Natusch.
Hugh Macdonald, the filmmaker, with 55 years professional film making under his belt, is actually related to Sheila (first cousin once removed.) At 3 weeks old, ‘so small and so pink’, he stole Sheila’s heart. Who would have known he would then end up making this amazing film chronicling her achievements?
Christine Dann, the researcher and producer, weaves the story with accurate information utilising original footage, including the epic footage of Sheila swimming with seals in 1960. The film captures the essence of Sheila herself: it is simple, beautiful, friendly and extremely interesting. Sheila wrote her books as if she was having a chat to a long-lost friend, and that is recreated in this movie. It has a fun, upbeat, happy feel, and with close-up nature shots you can feel truly immersed. The love both Hugh and Christine had for Sheila is obvious resulting in a gripping, raw, hilarious, heart-warming movie with a beautiful combination of all things Sheila.
The movie is so genuine with Sheila comfortably chatting to people allowing the viewer to feel a true connection. It allows us to laugh, learn and also, at times, shed a tear. Even with such a fascinating life, Sheila was a born listener, so it’s amazing that Hugh and Christine have finally allowed her to be heard, loud and clear.
Sheila was able to see the film shown to a packed audience at the New Zealand International Film Festival, which ended with a rapturous applause from the audience and a heart-warming smile from Sheila. Sadly, she passed away 2 days later, but what a brilliant dream seeing your life come to light on the big screen.
The music in the movie is so fitting; “No Ordinary Sheila” a wonderful collaboration by Andrew London and Hugh and “The Horizon from Owhiro Bay” (where Sheila lived for over 60 years) by Gareth Farr. Funnily, when asked what her favourite music was, Sheila replied ‘Sea shanties’, most especially “Rolling Home.” The wonderful men’s choir, Male Vocale, sing this to Sheila as the credits roll, what a heart-warming ending for such a touching tale.
Hugh and Christine achieved their goal in wanting this movie to be inspirational, “if a little old lady can do it, so can I!” Her optimistic approach to life, to “just keep on keeping on” is something we all really should do and should be shared. Sign up on the No Ordinary Sheila website (noordinarysheila.co.nz) and join the many subscribers to receive newsletters about the cinema release, the DVD release next year and more.
Want to leave the theatre feeling inspired and awed, and like you’ve just met the most adorably sweet woman ever? Want to feel like anything is possible? Then watch No Ordinary Sheila, in cinemas 19th October.
Words: Nicole Hewison