A passionate advocate for Māori creative control, late director Merata Mita (1942 - 2010) documented some of the most controversial events of Aotearoa’s last fifty years. Mita’s work includes Patu!, a documentary on the 1981 Springbok tour. Her 1988 drama Mauri remains only the second fiction feature directed by a Māori woman. Read the full biography
Swimming against the tide becomes an exhilarating experience. It makes you strong. I am completely without fear now. Merata Meta, to writer Helen Martin (Listener, October 14 1989)
Taika Waititi's blockbuster second feature revolves around an imaginative 11-year-old East Coast boy trying to make sense of his world - and the return of his just-out-of-jail father (played by Waititi). Intended as a "painful comedy of growing up", Boy was inspired by his Oscar-nominated short Two Cars, One Night and mixes poignancy with trademark whimsy and visual inventiveness. The film was shot in the Bay of Plenty area where Waititi partly grew up. Boy won Grand Prize in its section at the 2010 Berlin Film Festival, and within a month of its March 2010 release, had become the most successful Kiwi comedy released on its home soil.
Merata Mita’s Patu! is a startling documentary record of the mass civil disobedience that took place throughout New Zealand during the winter of 1981, in protest against a South African rugby tour. Testament to the courage and faith of both the filmmakers and marchers, Patu! is a landmark in New Zealand's film history. It staunchly contradicts claims by author Gordon McLauchlan a couple of years earlier that New Zealanders were "a passionless people".
It's the 1870s, and Māori leader Te Wheke (Anzac Wallace) is fed up by brutal land grabs. He leads a bloody rebellion against the colonial Government, provoking threatened frontiersmen, disgruntled natives, lusty wahine, bible-bashing priests, and kupapa alike to consider the nature of ‘utu’ (retribution). Legendary New Yorker critic Pauline Kael raved about Geoff Murphy’s ambitious follow up to Goodbye Pork Pie: “[He] has an instinct for popular entertainment. He has a deracinated kind of hip lyricism. And they fuse quite miraculously in this epic ...”
This is the opening episode of the Prime TV series celebrating 50 years of New Zealand television: from an opening night puppet show in Auckland in 1960, through to Outrageous Fortune five decades later. It traverses the medium's development and its major turning points (including the rise of programme-making and news, networking, colour and the arrival of TV3, Prime, NZ on Air, Sky and Māori Television) and interviews key players. The changing nature of the NZ living room — always with the telly in pride of place as modern hearth — is a story within a story.
Reporter Neil Roberts ventures into South Auckland in this TVNZ doco and finds two rapidly growing but very different communities. Otara and Mangere are becoming NZ’s industrial powerhouse, but a huge influx of Māori and Pacific Island workers and their families are struggling to adapt in a brand new city that was farmland just decades earlier and lacks amenities for its new citizens. Meanwhile, to the east, Howick and Pakuranga are also booming but their more upwardly mobile, prosperous and very Pākehā citizens seem to be living in a world of their own.
When she made Mauri, Merata Mita became the first Māori woman to direct, write and produce a feature film. Mauri (meaning life force), is loosely set around a love triangle and explores cultural tensions, identity, and a changing way of life in a dwindling East Coast town. As with Barry Barclay's Ngati, Mauri played a key role in the bourgeoning Māori screen industry; the production team numbered 33 Māori and 20 Pākehā, including interns from Hawkes Bay wānanga. NZ art icon Ralph Hotere helmed the production design; Māori activist Eva Rickard played kuia Kara.
Ralph Hotere (Te Aupōuri) is regarded as one of New Zealand's greatest artists. This documentary by Merata Mita provides a perspective on his world, largely by way of framing his extensive body of work. Hotere remains famously tight-lipped throughout, but there are interviews with artists, friends and commentators, alongside scenes of Hotere working and of his contemporary home context. Mita's impressionistic film is set to a Hirini Melbourne-directed score of jazz, māori and pop songs, and poetry reading by Hotere's first wife Cilla McQueen.
In 1983 director Geoff Murphy stormed out of the scrub of the nascent Kiwi film industry with a quadruple-barreled shotgun take on the great NZ colonial epic. The New Zealand wars-set tale of a Māori leader (Anzac Wallace) and his bloody path to redress 'imbalance', was the second NZ film officially selected for Cannes, and local cinema’s then second biggest hit (after Goodbye Pork Pie). A producer-driven recut was later shown in the US. This 2013 redux — led by cinematographer Graeme Cowley, with Murphy and editor Mike Horton — is Utu “enhanced and restored”.
With a stellar cast, including Jim Moriarty, Merata Mita and Billy T James (as a Marxist), The Protesters explores issues surrounding race and land ownership in NZ in the aftermath of the Springbok Tour and occupation of Bastion Point. A group of Māori and Pākehā protestors occupy ancestral land that the government is trying to sell. As they wait for the police to turn up they debate whether to go quietly or respond with violence. Though some wounds are healed, The Protesters ends on a note of division and uncertainly, gauging the contemporary climate.
This doco about front-running Māori writer Witi Ihimaera was made for TV One’s Work of Art series and features him in conversation with filmmaker Merata Mita. With the film adaptation of his novel The Whale Rider in pre-production, Ihimaera traverses his life and writing career, emphasising the importance of his family (particularly his mother and grandmother) and his overriding Māori identity. It features a specially dramatised excerpt from his award winning novel Bulibasha (with Rena Owen, Michael Hurst and Rawiri Paratene).
Loosely based on the case of a real-life computer dealer who acquired international bank records and later died mysteriously on Auckland Harbour Bridge, Spooked marked Geoff Murphy’s first local feature in 15 years (after a Hollywood foray). Everyman Kevin (Christopher Hobbs) is caught up in a barrage of intimidation after buying some used computer equipment and unwittingly receiving corporate secrets; Mort (Cliff Curtis) is the journalist investigating his case. The cast features rare cameos by director Vincent Ward and Goodbye Pork Pie star Kelly Johnson.
This documentary sees director Gaylene Preston go behind the scenes during the making of Geoff Murphy's Utu — his ambitious 'puha western' set during the 1870s land wars. “It’s like football innit? You set up the event and cover it …” says Murphy, preparing to shoot a battle scene. In this excerpt, the film’s insistence on cultural respect is conveyed: Merata Mita discusses the beauty of ta moko as Anzac Wallace is transformed into Te Wheke in the make-up chair, and Martyn Sanderson reflects on having his head remade to be blown off: “What’s the time Mr Wolf?”.
This episode of Koha is an examination of the Māori feature film industry, from the pioneers of the silent era up to feature film Mauri. Reflection on international screenings of groundbreaking feature Ngati frames interviews with Witarina Harris, Ramai Hayward, Barry Barclay, Wi Kuki Kaa and Merata Mita. Barclay talks of the importance of Māori telling Māori stories. “We’ve seen heaps of pictures of cowboys and Indians eh, but they’re always made by the cowboys.” Includes footage of The Devil’s Pit, Rewi's Last Stand, Ngati, The Governor, and Mauri.
Episode 17, series five of Kete Aronui, a documentary series featuring Aotearoa's artists that screened on Maori Television, follows film pioneer Merata Mita. Mita produced vital work anchored in culture and community. This extract concentrates on the occupation of Bastion Point - Mita and protest leader Joe Hawke talk of how 25 May 1978 shaped her concerns as a filmmaker: "It was life, it was a transformation". Includes footage from Patu, Mauri, Bastion Point: Day 507, and Utu, as well as covering Mita's work running a lab for indigenous filmmakers.
One of those Blighters began life as a doco on Taranaki novelist Ronald Hugh Morrieson, but after interviews with many who knew him, morphed into something more offbeat: a semi-fictionalised tale of Morrieson’s mates reminiscing about his departure, interwoven with highlights from his tales of drunkards and con artists. The dramatisations are from his four novels - all became movies - plus one posthumously published short story. Amidst a cast packed to the rafters with carousing Kiwi screen legends, fellow multi-talented muso Bruno Lawrence plays Morrieson.
This episode from the Oliver Driver-presented arts show visits the inaugural edition of the Māori Film Festival in Wairoa, with Ramai Hayward and Merata Mita making star turns alongside a tribute to teenage filmmaker Cameron Duncan. Elsewhere Deborah Smith and Marti Friedlander korero about their She Said exhibition, and about photographing kids and staging reality; and Auckland’s St Matthew in the City showcases spiritual sculpture. A ‘where are they now’ piece catches up with Val Irwin, star of interracial romance To Love a Māori (1972).
This report for TVNZ’s flagship 1980s arts show was made to tie in with Nicholas Reid’s book about the renaissance in NZ cinema that began with Sleeping Dogs in 1977. Reid and a who’s who of filmmakers discuss many of more than 50 films made in the previous decade (with Bruno Lawrence ever present) — and ponder the uniqueness (or otherwise) of NZ film. The industry’s fondness for rural and small town settings, and forceful (often conflicted) male leads is explored; and more neglected areas — Māori film making and more of a voice for women — are traversed.
This film documents the influential 1979 New Zealand tour of a black theatre group from London arts centre Keskidee. They visit marae, perform at The Gluepot, prisons and youth centres; meet gang members, Ratana ministers and a young Tame Iti; and korero about roots and fights for rights. The made-for-TV film was directed by Mereta Mita and Martyn Sanderson. On the tour Sanderson met his future wife, Kenyan actor Wanjiku Kairie. Tour instigator Denis O’Reilly argued in 2009 that the doco is “full of insights at a time of huge social and cultural shifts in Aotearoa.”
Regular Māori programmes started on Television New Zealand in 1980 with Koha, a weekly, 30-min programme broadcast in English. It explored everything from social problems, tribal history, natural history, about weaponry, to the preparation of food, canoe history, carvings and their meanings, language and how it changed through time. It was a window into te ao Māori for Pākekā, and it provided a link to urban Māori estranged from their culture. It was the first regular Māori programme which was shown in prime time.