Heroes and horrors: Whakaari eruption documentary three years on

updated By Stefan Dimitrof

For tourists visiting the Bay of Plenty and their families, the violent Whakaari White Island eruption at 2:11 pm on December 9, 2019, changed their lives forever.

A massive explosion of sulphuric gas, steam, mud and rocks was rapidly ejected from the crater lake with little warning for the people visiting the active volcano.

A total of 22 people were killed in the eruption, with a further 25 people receiving life-altering injuries, with some people having burns covering 95% per cent of their bodies.

To commemorate the third anniversary of the Whakaari eruption a documentary called The Volcano, Rescue from Whakaari will be released on December 16.

Documentary filmmaker, director and producer of the documentary (and the youngest child of the assassinated US Senator Robert F. Kennedy), Rory Kennedy said she was inspired by the people who were on the island when it erupted and the everyday people who risked their lives while becoming rescuers.

“In the face of this tragic event where there was so much loss of life and so much trauma that was incurred, I also think there were stories of incredible inspiration and I was really determined to tell it.”

'The voice of the Māori'

After two years of creating the documentary she built relationships with the local people who featured in the documentary, who she says were deeply and directly affected. They were invited to a special screening before the release on Netflix on December 16.

“It’s the people here whose story it is and so we wanted to share it.

“I have to say that we had a number of people who were in the audience who had family or who were on Whakaari/ White Island when it erupted who participated in our film and it was very powerful.”

Kennedy said it was very important that she connected to the Māori from Whakatāne and was something that she and her crew did from the outset of creating this documentary.

“Obviously the Māori community is an integral part of life here in Whakatāne and has a long history with White Island/Whakaari and we wanted to be respectful of that.”

Kenedy said the voices of the Māori were very important in this film as there were people of Māori descent who were on and near the island when it erupted.

“It was highly prioritised for us”.

The Volcano, Rescue from Whakaari is available on Netflix from Dec 16th