Of Māori, Croatian and Belgian descent, Awanui Simich-Pene grew up in the far north. In 2003 her studies in Māori and sociology at Auckland University were swapped for a Unitec degree in writing and directing. Experience in front of the camera (including as the scheming Rima on reality parody Living the Dream) and behind it (as a script supervisor) led to directing gigs on a run of shows: from Riwia Brown-penned domestic drama Irirangi Bay, to bilingual kids show Pūkana and comedy Find Me a Māori Bride. In 2017 Simich-Pene was a director on anthology feature Waru (2017), as one of eight Māori wahine filmmakers.

Getting to observe directors at work has been a wonderful learning experience for me, how they prep, how they communicate their ideas, and how they collaborate on set with actors and crew, I’m always watching and learning ... directing is an extremely rewarding outlet for creativity, exploration, connection and heart... Awanui Simich-Pene
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Waru

2017, Co-Director - Film

For this 2017 feature film, eight Māori women each direct a 10 minute segment of events circling around the tangi of a child (Waru). Each director had a day and a single shot to capture their take on the context behind a tragedy. After its debut at the 2017 NZ International Film Festival, Waru won a rush of social media attention, and screened at the Toronto and imagineNATIVE festivals. The Hollywood Reporter praised it for bringing "a sense of dramatic, urgent realism to a story that plays out like a suspenseful mystery". Waru is produced by Kerry Warkia and Kiel McNaughton.

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Find Me a Māori Bride

2017, Director - Television

In this mockumentary series, two metrosexual Māori males have six months to find a Māori bride in order to win a hefty inheritance. Created by writer Dane Giraud, the show mines comedy from being a modern Māori in the city. NZ Herald reviewer Alex Casey praised it for adding "much-needed fresh perspectives to New Zealand television comedy." The cast of the Kiel McNaughton-directed hit includes Cohen Holloway (Boy), Amanda Billing (Shortland Street), Rachel House (Whale Rider) and Siobhan Marshall (Outrageous Fortune). Jennifer Ward-Lealand narrates.

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Atamira - Irirangi Bay

2012, Director - Television

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Whare Taonga

2012 - 2015, Director - Television

Each episode of this award-winning te reo series looks a building or structure of special significance to its community. Architect Rau Hoskins interviews locals to find out about architecture, construction, and social and cultural history, and delve into each building's mauri and wairua. Waitangi's Treaty House, the whare at Parihaka Pā, the globetrotting Mātaatua meeting house, and a wharenui buried by the 1996 Tarawera eruption all featured. Four seasons were made by Scottie Productions; the first was named Best Māori Language Programme at the 2012 NZ TV Awards.

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Brown Bruthaz

2011, Director - Television

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Pūkoro

2009 - ongoing, Director - Television

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Sione's Wedding

2006, As: Bar Hottie - Film

Sione's Wedding is a feel-good feature comedy about four 30-something guys who must each find a girlfriend before their best friend Sione's wedding — or be left out in the cold. Through the efforts of these bumbling blokes to get the girl(s), the film brought to life the colour and humour of the urban Samoan community in Auckland, the world's largest Polynesian city. A breakthrough PI-Kiwi film, Sione's broke box office records when it opened in cinemas throughout New Zealand in March 2006. Actor Oscar Kightley co-wrote the script with James Griffin.

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Te Haerenga

2004 - 2005, Director - Television

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Kōrero Mai

2010, Director - Television

Kōrero Mai ('speak to me') used a soap opera (Ākina) as a vehicle to teach conversational Māori, aided by te reo tutorials. Special segments taught song and tikanga. Multiple seasons were made for for Māori Television by Cinco Cine Productions. Cast and crew with credits on the series include presenters Matai Smith and Gabrielle Paringata; actors Calvin Tutaeo, Vanessa Rare, Jaime Passier-Armstrong, and Ben Mitchell; and directors Rawiri Paratene, Rachel House and Simon Raby. Kōrero Mai won Best Māori Programme at the 2005 Qantas TV Awards.

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Living the Dream

2004, As: Rima - Television

Flipping reality television on its head, this 2004 show saw Hawkes Bay vineyard worker Sam Chambers competing on a reality series, unaware he was the only real thing on it. The Kiwi take on American cable TV hit The Joe Schmo Show was produced by Touchdown Productions. Writers and cast (some of whom had never acted before) had to adapt to unexpected alliances and events, while Mark Ferguson revelled in the role of smarmy host, crossing lines of acceptable behaviour with some of the contestants. When the ruse was finally revealed, Chambers got $50,000 in prize money. 

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Living the Dream - First Episode

2004, As: Rima - Television

This TV2 take on The Truman Show sees Hawkes Bay vineyard worker Sam participating in a reality show where – unknown to him – all his housemates are fakes. In this first episode Sam’s flatmates play to the archetypes of reality TV, as host Mark Ferguson sets them ridiculous challenges (eg water bomb wet t-shirt reading). The Spinoff 's Alex Casey called it “a one off, never to be repeated format, and crikey it was good, bad TV.” The cast were only let into the show's secrets after winning their parts. Sarah Thomson ('rich bitch' Tiffany) was later an undercover cop on Shortland Street.

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Pūkana

1999 - ongoing, Director - Television

Debuting on TV Four as Tūmeke in 1999, children's show Pūkana was pioneering in its use of te reo. Given a new title when it moved to TV3 in its second year, it later began an epic run on Māori Television. Taking contemporary kids' culture cues, Pūkana features game shows, send-ups, talent quests and music. It emphasises ‘street’ rather than marae-style language. Made by company Cinco Cine, it has won three awards for best show in its category, and two nominations for children’s programme. Past presenters include Mātai Smith, Quinton Hita and Te Hamua Nikora.