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Tainui Stephens

[Te Rarawa]

 Tainui Stephens


Veteran broadcaster Tainui Stephens has worn many hats in New Zealand's screen industry. He has been a producer for television, radio and film; director; presenter; writer; narrator; cultural advisor; and company director.

Born to a Māori father and a Pākehā mother, Tainui Stephens spent time working as an investigator for the Race Relations Conciliator before starting his broadcasting career in 1984. His first job was as a researcher and reporter on Television New Zealand's Koha series. "I turned up in a time when there was a turning of the tide,"  he told Monika Ahuriri in 2009. "There was a belief in the system that Māori television counted, and we had to make way for it. I happened to be there at the right time in television."

At ease working in both Māori and English, Stephens has developed uniquely Māori storytelling screen formats for indigenous and mainstream audiences. Programmes like  Te Kohanga Reo, landmark te reo series  Waka Huia, Marae and Mai Time all credit him in one role or another. Stephens directed his first one-off documentary in 1987. Rere Ki Uta Rera Ki Tai (The Voyage) followed preparations for a gruelling ten hour journey by war canoe from Waitangi to Whangaroa.

In 1990 Stephens directed a documentary marking the 50th anniversary of the Māori Battalion. He writes about the experience here, and talks about how the filmmaking team aimed to go beyond "recording the mere facts of the war of these men — to trying to capture how they felt about it". 

In 1998, shortly before he left TVNZ (in 2000), came high-rating series The New Zealand Wars. Presented by historian James Belich, the five-part series chronicled the history of Māori versus Pākehā armed conflict. The New Zealand Wars won Best Documentary at the 1998 Qantas Media Awards.

Stephens went on to work on many projects for Māori Television after its launch in 2004, including directing three-part documentary He Whare Korero, in which Tuhoe scholar Timoti Karetu traces the renaissance of the Maori language. In 2008 he wrote and directed the Qantas-nominated Let My Whakapapa Speak. The feature-length documentary chronicles the 25 year history of the Kohanga Reo movement, and interviewed Iritana Tawhiwhirangi, a key player in its establishment.

His first short film as director, odd couple tale The Hill, was selected for the 2002 Sundance and Berlin festivals. The script was written by The Market writer Brett Ihaka.

He was on the producing team of ambitious Vincent Ward historical drama River Queen, and later joined the producing team on Ward's acclaimed feature-length documentary Rain of the Children.

In 2003 Stephens joined legendary Māori filmmakers Barry Barclay and Merata Mita to discuss launching a group to work alongside the NZ Film Commission, "welcoming in Māori feature film proposals". It was Stephens who coined the group's title, Te Paepae Ataata.

Stephens is the Māori advisor to New Zealand On Air, a board member with the Māori Radio Spectrum (Te Huarahi Tika Trust) and spent nine years (until 2010) on the NZ Film Commission board. He has also been a Māori liaison for NZ On Screen. Often found in a mentoring role, he is engaged with advancing Māori in the industry. Since the early 1980s he has been a lecturer, speaker and writer in schools, tertiary institutions, conferences and hui.

His company, Pito One Productions Limited, is based in Ngaruawahia and provides Māori broadcasting and education advice.

His favourite works amongst the many productions he's worked on include: Waka Huia, Marae, Māori Battalion - March to Victory, The New Zealand Wars, When the Haka Became Boogie, Icon in B Minor, (about pianist Michael Houstoun) Mai Time, He Whare Körero, Anzac Day - Nā Rātou Mö Tātou and Bub & Nen.

Sources include
'He Waahi Korero' (Interview) - Onfilm, November 2003
Te Paepae Ataata website. Accessed 19 September 2012
'Tainui Stephens' (Video Interview), NZ On Screen Website. Director Clare O’Leary (Uploaded 17 May 2009). Accessed 19 September 2012