Tainui Stephens is an independent producer, director, writer and sometimes presenter. He started his broadcasting career with Television New Zealand’s Koha in 1984. Stephens has been responsible for bringing many Māori stories to screen. Notable historical stories he has helmed amongst his extensive screenography include a Māori Battalion doco, feature film River Queen and TV series The New Zealand Wars.

I think the principal challenge facing Māori film and television is to assume control over itself [...] because of the quality and calibre of the product, because of the power of the vision. Tainui Stephens in Onfilm, November 2003

The Dead Lands

2014, Co-Producer - Film

Action movie The Dead Lands joins the short list of screen tales set in Aotearoa, before the pākehā. James Rolleston (star of Boy) plays Hongi, the son of a Māori chief. After the massacre of his tribe, Hongi sets out into the forbidden Dead Lands, hoping to enlist the help of a legendary warrior (Lawrence Makoare). The Anglo-Kiwi co-production marked new screen territory for director Toa Fraser (No. 2) and writer Glenn Standring (fantasy Perfect Creature). After debuting at the 2014 Toronto Film Festival, The Dead Lands topped the Kiwi box office and won three Moa awards.


My Country Song

2013 - ongoing, Director


The Prophets

2013, Director


It's in the Bag - Ohakune (Series Five, Episode Three)

2013, Outside Broadcast Director - Television

In this Māori Television reboot of the classic game show, presenters Pio Terei and Stacey Daniels Morrison take the roadshow to the North Island town of Ohakune, under the foot of Mt Ruapehu. To be able to barter for te moni or te kete, contestants have to successfully answer locally themed questions. In this episode from the fifth season, players — including one who saw Selwyn Toogood in the original show as a six-year old — are quizzed on giant carrots, halitosis, stamps and ski fields. Imagine those famous carrots in the MultiKai cooker!


It's in the Bag - Masterton (Series Five, Episode 12)

2013, Outside Broadcast Director - Television

In 2009 Māori Television rebooted the classic game show first hosted by Selwyn Toogood. In this fifth season episode, Stacey Daniels Morrison and Pio Terei take the popular roadshow to Masterton in the Wairarapa. Contestants answer locally themed questions (ranging from local iwi to Brian Lochore, Jemaine Clement and Ladyhawke) and earn the right to barter for the money or the bag. But as Morrison says, “remember that lurking in some of those bags are the boobies …”. Prizes include a basketball stands, a 50 inch TV and of course, the MultiKai cooker. 


Requiem for Charlie

2012, Director, Writer


It's in the Bag - Opunake (Series Four, Episode Six)

2012, Voice-overs, Outside Broadcast Director - Television

In 2009 Māori Television rebooted the classic television game show first hosted by Selwyn Toogood back in 1973. Presenters Pio Terei and Stacey Daniels Morrison travelled to the regions to quiz contestants with locally-specific questions, and the players earn the right to choose between the money or the bag. In this episode from Māori TV's fourth season, the show travels to the Taranaki town of Opunake, birthplace of Peter Snell. Prizes include a multi-kai cooker and an electric guitar. The series is presented in English and te reo: “What’ll it be Aotearoa?”


It's in the Bag - Waimamaku (Series Four, Episode Four)

2012, Voice-overs, Outside Broadcast Director - Television

In 2009 Māori Television rebooted the Selwyn Toogood-hosted 70s game show, with presenters Pio Terei and Stacey Daniels Morrison giving contestants the immortal choice: the money or the bag? In this episode — complete with web players — the road show comes to Ngāpuhi territory: the Northland town of Waimamaku. The series is bilingual; but how ever you say it be careful what you choose: as Stacey says, “Instead of a TV you might get a can of V!” The show ends with Pio leading a ‘Pokarekare Ana’ singalong. “Too much!”


The Scotsman and the Māori

2010, Associate Producer


The Strength of Water

2009, Associate Producer - Film

Released in Kiwi cinemas in August 2009 - after winning praise at festivals in Berlin and Rotterdam - The Strength of Water marks the big-screen debut of Māori playwright Briar Grace-Smith, and Pākehā director Armagan Ballantyne. The film centres on a 10-year-old twin brother and sister in an isolated part of the Hokianga, and the events that follow when they encounter a young stranger. The Strength of Water merges a spare, naturalistic portrait of a Māori family struggling to stay above water, with moody images of earth and sea, loss and new beginnings.


Let My Whakapapa Speak

2008, Director, Writer - Television

This documentary tells the 25-year history of Kohanga Reo via the influential figure of Iritana Tāwhiwhirangi (2014 New Zealander of the Year finalist). Kohanga Reo is a world-leading educational movement that revitalised Māori language “by giving it back to the children”. Not eschewing controversy, director Tainui Stephens’ film journeys from a time when students were punished for speaking Māori to a present where they can have ‘total immersion’ schooling in te reo. The Qantas Award-nominated doco screened on Māori Television, and at 2008 imagineNATIVE festival.


Rain of the Children

2008, Producer - Film

This lauded documentary revisits the subject of a film Vincent Ward made in 1978, aged 21. That film, In Spring One Plants Alone, told the story of 80-year-old Puhi, who lived with her schizophrenic son in the isolated Urewera. The follow-up — part detective doco, part historical re-enactment — focuses on Puhi's life. She married the son of Māori prophet Rua Kenana, had 14 children, and after a run of tragedies, believed herself to be cursed. The excerpt goes “way out there in the bush” to the Maungapohatu community where Rua, “made the city of God on Earth”.


Mai Time - Final Episode

2007, Subject - Television

Mai Time was an influential magazine show for Māori youth, exploring te ao Māori and pop culture (it was one of the first shows to screen local hip-hop), with presenters speaking in te reo and English. This one hour final looks back over the 12 years of the show, beginning with a roll call of hosts: including Stacey Morrison (nee Daniels), Quinton Hita, and Teremoana Rapley. Current hosts Olly Coddington and Gabrielle Paringatai look at the show’s impact and legacy, as well as Stacey’s “mad facial expressions”, Patara’s Stubbies and Quinton’s Peter Andre tribute.


Māori Television Anzac Day Coverage

2006, Commentator - Television

Māori Television has staked such a claim on Anzac Day coverage that the two have almost become synonymous. The channel began its all-day Anzac coverage with this broadcast in 2006. Māori Television has increased mainstream media interest in its Anzac coverage by cleverly enlisting longtime TVNZ newsreader Judy Bailey to co-host with Wena Harawira. This opening 30 minutes from 2006 includes the studio welcome, and live coverage of the 67th annual Auckland Dawn Parade, with narrators Tainui Stephens and historian Stephen Clarke.


River Queen

2005, Co-Producer - Film

Vincent Ward's fifth feature follows Irishwoman Sarah in 1860s New Zealand, as Māori tribes resist the occupation of their land by the British. Sarah has had an affair with a Māori and borne his child. Her lover dies, and seven years later the child is kidnapped by his grandfather, a powerful tribal leader. Sarah embarks on a search for her child, unsure whether he is alive. When she finds him, both mother and son must decide to which culture they belong. This excerpt from the notoriously ambitious film sees the duo trapped amidst a brutal trench battle.


He Whare Korero

2004, Director, Writer


The Family

2003, Executive Producer - Television

An urban Maori trust, Te Whanau o Waipareira has developed from modest beginnings as a vegetable selling co-op into the biggest employment and training organisation in West Auckland. This documentary by Toby Mills and Aileen O'Sullivan examines its operations through the eyes of four people who have had their lives turned around by its all encompassing social, health, justice and education programmes. Interviewees include Pita Sharples and trust CEO John Tamihere (who recounts early struggles to be accepted by government, council and business sectors).


Von Tempsky's Ghost

2002, Māori Advisor - Television

Mike King presents the story of Gustavus Von Tempsky: swashbuckling colonial soldier of fortune, "flamboyant folk hero" and "our first pin up boy". The Prussian-born artist, self-promoter, romantic and adventurer, led an elite unit - the Forest Rangers - in the 1860s New Zealand Wars, garbed in trademark Garibaldi shirt, kilt and calvary sabre. His bush-fighting skill attracted respect from Māori foes, who named him "manu rau" (many birds); but also controversy after an infamous raid. He met his demise fighting guerilla leader Titokowaru.


The Sir Howard Morrison Story

2002, Kai Urungi - Television

This documentary tells the life story of entertainer Sir Howard Morrison. Sir Howard discusses his Te Arawa whakapapa, his whānau, and his Anglican faith. Includes footage of his investiture, a visit to his old school - Te Aute, early performances by the Howard Morrison Quartet in Rotorua and performances throughout his career. Sir Howard is candid about his ego, his foray into film, and his marriage. An especially touching moment is a visit to an old Tuhoe friend (Sir Howard spent his early years in the Urewera) with a cloak made for his father.


The Hill

2001, Director


Mai FM - It's Cool to Korero

1999, Presenter


The New Zealand Wars - The Invasion of the Waikato (Episode Three)

1998, Director - Television

In this excerpt from James Belich's award-winning history of Māori vs Pākehā armed conflict, George Grey returns to the governorship in the wake of the costly Taranaki war. Now bitter, secretive and reluctant to share power, he talks peace while planning to strike at the heart of the King Movement in Waikato. As gunboats patrol the Waikato river and a great road is painstakingly built to take his army south, Grey fabricates plots and conspiracies, convincing London to send more troops and ships until the military balance of power tips in his favour.


The New Zealand Wars - Taranaki Prophets (Episode Four)

1998, Director - Television

In this excerpt from James Belich's award-winning history of Māori vs Pākehā armed conflict, the focus returns to Taranaki, where the charismatic chief Tītokowaru had been promoting peace. But settler demands for land and confiscations exhaust his goodwill and he declares war. Vastly outnumbered, Titokowaru embarks on a devastatingly effective guerrilla campaign aimed at provoking his foes to attack him on his terms. As emotions rise, Tītokowaru's war escalates with the attack on Turuturumōkai Redoubt, an act of cannibalism, and his taunt "I shall not die ..."


The New Zealand Wars - The East Coast Wars (Episode Five)

1998, Director - Television

This excerpt from the final part of James Belich's award-winning history of Māori vs Pākehā armed conflict focuses on Tūhoe prophet Rua Kēnana — the target of the last action of the New Zealand Wars in 1916 (73 years after hostilities began). He creates an independent community at Maungapōhatu in the Ureweras (complete with a remarkable meeting house). But any whiff of domestic dissent is intolerable for a government fighting a war overseas. Armed constabulary are sent to apprehend Rua on trumped up charges, with fatal results for two of his followers.


The New Zealand Wars - Kings and Empires (Episode Two)

1998, Director - Television

In this excerpt from James Belich's award-winning history of Māori vs Pākehā armed conflict, tensions simmer in 1850s Taranaki and Waikato between land hungry settlers and Māori who don't want to sell. This resolve to retain their land results in, what is for Belich, "one of the most important developments in Māori political history" — the birth of the King Movement; but a new governor determined to reassert British authority exploits disunity between Māori factions and a disputed sale at Waitara culminates in "New Zealand's great civil war of the 1860s".


The New Zealand Wars - The War that Britain Lost (Episode One)

1998, Director - Television

This excerpt from the first episode of James Belich’s award-winning history of Māori vs Pākehā armed conflict examines growing Māori resentment following the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. The focus is on Ngā Puhi chief Hōne Heke, who sees few concessions to partnership. The refusal of the British to fly a Māori flag alongside the Union Jack particularly incenses him — and his celebrated acts of civil disobedience directed at this symbol of Imperial rule flying over the town Kororāreka (now Russell) lead to the outbreak of war in the north.


The New Zealand Wars

1998, Director - Television

The New Zealand Wars was a five-part series detailing the history of Māori vs Pākehā armed conflict. It was presented by historian James Belich, who with his arm-waving zeal proved a convincing homegrown Simon Schama: "we don't need to look overseas for our Robin Hood, our Genghis Khan, Joan of Arc, or Gandhi". The popular series reframed NZ history, and its stories of Hōne Heke, Governor Grey, Tītokowaru, Te Whiti, Von Tempsky and Te Kooti, easily affirmed Belich's conviction. The series won Best Documentary at the 1998 Qantas Media Awards.


Rangatira: Pita Sharples

1997, Narrator - Television

This edition of the Rangatira (‘chief’) series on Māori leaders, looks at academic and politician Dr Pita Sharples, a key figure of the Māori cultural renaissance. The future Māori Party co-leader visits his Takapau home, acknowledges his pivotal time at Te Aute College, talks candidly about the pressures his tireless schedule places on his whānau, demonstrates his cherished taiaha, and goes ten pin bowling. In extensive interviews he enthuses about realising the dream of kaupapa Māori (education, language, prison) cultures, and on the importance of kapa haka.


Icon in B Minor

1996, Director, Producer - Television

Icon in B Minor: a musical odyssey is the tale of two creative souls from different centuries with the same belief in spiritual transformation through their art. World-renowned New Zealand concert pianist Michael Houstoun is filmed on his pilgrimage to Germany, where composer Franz Liszt spent his last years. Houstoun is preparing for his performance of Liszt's monumental work, Sonata in B Minor. Produced and directed by Tainui Stephens, Icon in B Minor screened as part of the Work of Art series.


Mai Time

1996 - 97, Executive Producer - Television

Mai Time was an influential magazine show for Māori youth, exploring te ao Māori and pop culture (it was one of the first shows to show local hip-hop), with presenters speaking in te reo and English. Running for 12 years, it began as a slot on Marae, then screened on Saturday mornings on TV2. Mai Time was a breeding ground for Māori television talent: launching the careers of Stacey Morrison (nee Daniels), Quinton Hita, Teremoana Rapley and others. It was the brainchild of Tainui Stephens, and was produced by Greg Mayor, then from 2004 by Anahera Higgins.



1992 - 97, Executive Producer - Television

Marae is the longest running Māori current affairs programme. First broadcast in 1992, the magazine programme aims to keep its audience in touch with the issues, political or otherwise, that affect Māori, and explain kaupapa Māori from a Māori perspective. The Marae Digipoll gives the programme publicity in other media as a respected barometer of matters Māori. Marae was re-launched in October 2010 as Marae Investigates, presented by Scotty Morrison and Jodi Ihaka Marae. It screens on TV One, and is presented half in english and half in te reo Māori. 


When the Haka Became Boogie: The Showbands

1990, Producer, Director


Māori Battalion - March to Victory

1990, Producer, Director - Television

Māori Battalion - March To Victory tells the story of the New Zealand Army's (28th) Māori Battalion that fought in campaigns during World War ll. Produced, directed and written by Tainui Stephens, the documentary tells the stories of five men who served with the unit. Narration (by actor George Henare), remembrances, visits to historic sites, archival footage, and graphic stills create a respectful and stirring screen testament to the men who fought in the Battalion.


Waka Huia - First Episode

1988, Studio Director - Television

A 'waka huia' is traditionally a treasure box to hold the revered huia feather. Waka Huia the TV series records and preserves Māori culture and customs. The long-running series also covers social and political concerns of the day, taking a snapshot of Māori history. Waka Huia is seen as a taonga for future generations and is presented completely in te reo Māori. This first episode is about the language and its survival, and features groundbreaking TV interviews with Sir James Henare and Dame Mira Szaszy.


Rere Ki Uta, Rere Ki Tai (The Journey)

1987, Director, Writer



1984 - 87, Reporter - Television

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. 


It's in the Bag

2011 - ongoing, Executive Producer, Director - Television

It’s in the Bag was a travelling quiz show, fronted in its first, extended incarnation by Selwyn Toogood (based on his radio series). Competitors had to answer three questions before they could pick a bag, hoping it contained treasure. Several of Toogood's catchphrases — "by hokey!”, ”what’ll it be customers, the money or the bag?” — became TV catchphrases. His glam bag ladies included Heather Eggleton and Tineke Bouchier. After Toogood's 1986 retirement, John Hawkesby took over, then Nick Tansley. The show was revived by Māori TV in 2009, with Pio Terei fronting..