For years Monterey café in Auckland’s West Lynn shops was one of my go-to spots for eating and grabbing a dose of caffeine, a place I associate with the birth of my son and numerous scones shovelled in his then-tiny mouth whilst I read the paper. It was always warm and welcoming, and owners Paul and Mira consummate hospitality professionals. When it shut I was surprised, but moved on to yet another of the ‘hood’s many establishments with hardly a thought of what became of the Monterey crew. Which is a bit shit really, and especially shit given what I learned about their struggles by watching tonight’s documentary about the café, simply titled MONTEREY.
Taranaki-born director Lisa Burd – also a Monterey café regular – follows Mira and Paul’s dream “of creating a café together, a warm homely place they could share with the people around them”. They find the perfect spot in leafy Grey Lynn, and the addition of a proudly Samoan kitchen crew helps form the soul of a community-minded establishment. It’s a happy, nurturing family environment, and Paul’s experience as one of the founders of Ponsonby institution, Dizengoff makes it appear that they cannot fail. But it’s not making money, and HOW. Over six years the pair fights to keep Monterey open, finally resorting to bringing in a slightly stroppy but passionate UK chef to turn their misfortune around. A power struggle ensues, with more than a few casualties and not many winners at the end of the day.
Burd – who earned New Zealand's 2016 Doc Edge Best Emerging Filmmaker Award for the film – knows about professional struggle, having drawn on all of her own resources to bring MONTEREY to the screen. She came up with the story concept, raised the funds needed, and then shot, directed and produced the documentary herself, which is no mean feat. The award winner last year worked as a field producer on the reality television show, the Real Housewives of Auckland, but is clearly meant for greater things as MONTEREY so aptly demonstrates.
Burd’s style is very easy to watch, with plenty of face to the camera interviews with Paul, Mira and Jacob, their first hire and someone whose potential they really believed in with all of their hearts. It gives you an insight into their world, the struggles of owning a café and the amazing bond they share, going beyond “fly on the wall” to almost make the viewer part of their crew. We really feel Jacob’s discomfort and sense of failure when Paul decides he needs to bring in a chef with more experience and new ideas, and also Paul’s anguish over the decision. It is a quiet watch but a compelling one, and I can’t wait to see what story Burd’s deft touch brings to the screen next.
New Zealand film critic David Larsen said in Metro magazine last year that with MONTEREY, “Burd has done a lovely job of capturing a chapter in the life of Auckland”, and it’s one that I am glad to have been lucky enough to witness. I just wish I had watched the story at its heart unfold more closely.
MONTEREY premieres Thursday 18 May at 8.30pm on Rialto Channel
Click here to remote record