How Far Is Heaven

A young person wearing hoodie. In the background are hills and shrubs shrouded in fog, and a small building like a church with a high steeple.

Miriam Smith and Christopher Pryor
2012 | 99 minutes | New Zealand
U.S. Premiere | Directors in Attendance

This is a story of powerful dualities: Maori and Christian spirituality, gang parties and prayers, pig hunting and perfume appreciation. It unfolds in an isolated village known both as Jerusalem and Hiruharama, home for the last 120 years to New Zealand’s only homegrown Catholic order, the Sisters of Compassion. Through the four seasons, the film focuses on Sister Margaret Mary, the newest sister, as she and the other two remaining sisters engage with the broader community. Conflicting feelings arise as their daily spiritual practices meet those of the Maori community, as the juxtaposition reveals parallel but ultimately fundamentally different approaches to navigating the harsh realities of life.

Plays with Queen of the Desert

Co-presented by Center for Media, Culture and History, NYU


What compelled you to see for yourself?
Our approach to making How Far is Heaven was one of openness, learning, and immersion. We lived in the small, remote village of Jerusalem on the Whanganui River in New Zealand for a year, allowing the present-day story of the people and place to reveal itself to us, rather than bringing our own preconceived ideas and notions to this world. Our film presents a vision of what we discovered in this special place, observing the unique relationship between the three resident nuns (Sisters of Compassion) and [the] local Maori community. Through an open-minded exploration of the mysteries, complexities, and questions of this world, the audience is invited to draw their own conclusions.
—Christopher Pryor and Miriam Smith | Directors, How Far is Heaven