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August 22, 2017

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These elderly singing coffin builders are the stars of a new documentary

WELLINGTON -- A group of elderly New Zealanders with a macabre hobby are the stars of a new musical documentary.

Film-maker Briar March's short documentary "The Coffin Club," released online on Friday, portrays a free-spirited group of senior citizens who construct and paint their own low-cost coffins.

"I've always been a little afraid of ageing and I've often felt nervous and uncomfortable at funerals, so when I heard about the Kiwi Coffin Club I was immediately intrigued and wanted to meet the people behind it," March said.

Based in Rotorua, in the middle of New Zealand's North Island, the elderly group meets once a week to rejoice in life while facing the realities of death.

It all started in 2010 when former palliative nurse Katie Williams was pondering new activities for the elderly.

With little knowledge of carpentry and few woodwork skills, the now 78-year-old brought together some friends with the necessary backgrounds and the club was soon up and running.

March said she decided to make the film as a documentary musical as she thought that the mix of genres would demonstrate that there is still so much to laugh about and celebrate when facing mortality.

"We have been utterly amazed and in awe of our cast of seniors who have had the courage to sing and dance and perform for the camera," she said.

Everyone featured in the film is a member of the Kiwi Coffin Club, and the oldest dancer is going on 94.

"Their vitality for life and willingness to give things a go puts many of us younger folk to shame. I really hope I can be like them one day," she said.

The film is part of Loading Docs, a New Zealand initiative that hosts short documentaries and can be watched online.

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