I have had two very different experiences in the last week that were refreshers on what it is to be Māori in the New Zealand film industry.
The first was when I attended the down-home Māoriland Film Festival in Otaki from last Friday to Sunday, run by Māori power couple Libby Hakaraia and Tainui Stephens.
The festival is in its second year and brought together a programme of Māori, Aboriginal Australian, Sanmi and other indigenous features, shorts and documentaries for the enjoyment of the predominantly local population, although a number of our filmmaking colleagues attended from Aotearoa, Australia, Canada, Scandinavia, and the U.S. A Māori short I produced in 2013 was one of the films on offer.
Otaki is the home of Ngāti Raukawa, who moved to the area with Te Rauparaha in the 1800s, and the site for tertiary education provider Te Wānanga o Raukawa.
The architecturally stunning Nga Purapura Wānanga of Fitness Facility provided one of the screening venues and it’s where I watched the Māori story The Dead Lands for the first time. (I say Māori story because I subscribe to the Ngā Aho Whakaari definition of a Māori film as a film with a Māori story, and with Maori in the three key creative positions of writer, director and producer.) The other two screening venues were the local hall and the small Civic Theatre.
In this small community from which festival director Libby comes, the aroha, whanaungatanga, manaakitanga and kotahitanga were clearly evident. I felt a part of the Hakaraia extended whānau, welcomed by both whānau and iwi who played an integral part in the festival, and at one with the place and the people, both of the land and the industry. This is the penultimate experience of a Māori event for me. This spirit is not limited just to Māori , though. I felt the same way at imagineNATIVE, the world’s largest indigenous film festival in Toronto, and at the Pacific Islanders in Communications Conference and the Hawaii International Film Festival on Oahu, which I attended last year.
Māoriland is a celebration of indigenous storytelling on screen, and continues a tradition started by the Wairoa Māori Film Festival, which sees its 10th anniversary this year.
The second experience was when I was fortunate enough to be invited to the set on the first day of shooting for The Patriarch, which kicked off on Wednesday.
It’s been twenty years since director Lee Tamahori and producer Robin Scholes worked together on Once Were Warriors. They have come together again to put on screen Witi Ihimaera’s novel Bulibasha, about two warring shearing gang families.
My colleague and friend Brad Haami is Māori consultant on the film in the absence of kaumātua Hare Williams due to illness; Robin my old boss from years ago. I spent the morning listening as Brad engaged with core cast Temuera Morrison and Nancy Brunning over Māori aspects of the script.
Once Were Warriors paved the way for the commercial and or critical success of Māori stories and Māori films to come, from Whale Rider, The Dead Lands and The Dark Horse to Boy, Mt. Zion and The Pa Boys. It also catapulted Lee Tamahori into the directing big leagues of an international career. It was an honour to hear Lee as he addressed the crew, telling them what it meant to him to be returning to filmmaking in New Zealand after all that time to make The Patriarch, a film based on a story from his own rohe. And I clearly saw a Māori director who was in charge of his film and his vision.
Māori stories and films are the unique differentiator for New Zealand film in the international marketplace. And on the domestic scene they make up six of the top 10 box office successes, with Boy sitting at No. 1.
In an interview with Māori Television’s current affairs programme Native Affairs, actor and Sundance Film Festival founder Robert Redford, who is here for the filming of Disney’s Pete’s Dragon, said that New Zealand is like a country with a smile on its face. In the film world, Māori in front of and behind the camera are increasingly bringing smiles to the faces of domestic and international audiences, filmmakers and film industry people alike.