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
Pull up a chair and grab your guitar; the Modern Māori Quartet — aka musicians Francis Kora, James Tito, Maaka Pohatu and Matariki Whatarau — are here to reinvigorate a clutch of classic Māori party tunes, helped along by a guest list of young and old. With their laidback style the boys trade jokes and memories, and older generations share the songs that make a room sing. This episode also features a new and improved version of 'Ten Guitars', some seriously sharp suits, and a roof-lifting performance from cultural group Te Waka Huia.
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.
In 2009 Māori Television rebooted the classic game show first hosted by Selwyn Toogood. In this episode from the fifth season, 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 the MultiKai cooker.
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 Mount Ruapehu. To be able to barter for te moni or te kete, contestants have to successfully answer locally themed questions. In this fifth season episode, contestants — 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!
“What’ll it be Aotearoa?” 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 fourth season episode, 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.
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!”
This edition in Prime’s television history series surveys Māori programming. Director Tainui Stephens pairs societal change (urbanisation, protest, cultural resurgence) with an increasing Māori presence in front of and behind the camera. Interviews with broadcasters are intercut with Māori screen content. The episode charts an evolution from Māori as exotic extras, via pioneering documentaries, drama and current affairs, to being an intrinsic part of Aotearoa’s screen landscape, with te reo used on national news, and Māori telling their own stories on Māori Television.
Beloved quiz show It's in the Bag was relaunched on Māori Television in a bilingual version, on 31 May 2009. Hosts Pio Terei and Stacey Daniels Morrison took the series to small towns across Aotearoa, from Waimamaku to Masterton. Over five seasons, the classic format remained largely the same, although the hosts were given more of an equal footing than had been the case in the past. Contestants from the audience answered three questions, before picking either the money or the bag — hopefully avoiding the booby prize, which might be a sack of kina or some bread.
The Camera on the Shore is a feature-length portrait of a man who argued eloquently for the rights of indigenous people to control the camera. Based on extensive interviews with Barry Barclay and those who knew him — and footage from his work — it traces the path of one of the first people to bring a Māori perspective to the screen. The documentary ranges from Barclay's early years in a monastery to speeches at his tangi, touching en route on landmark TV series Tangata Whenua, battling corporations on doco The Neglected Miracle, and behind the scenes conflict on Te Rua.
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.
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 indigenous festival ImagineNATIVE.
This much praised 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 documentary, part historical reenactment — 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. This excerpt goes “way out there in the bush” to the Maungapohatu community where Rua “made the city of God on Earth”.
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 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 an extended, award-winning broadcast in 2006. Māori Television 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 includes the 2006 studio welcome, and live coverage of the 67th annual Auckland Dawn Parade, with narrators Tainui Stephens and historian Stephen Clarke.
Vincent Ward's fifth feature follows an Irishwoman in 1860s New Zealand, as Māori tribes resist the occupation of their land by the British. Sarah (Samantha Morton) has had an affair with a Māori and borne his child. Years later the boy is kidnapped by his grandfather, a powerful tribal leader. Sarah embarks on a search for her child, aided by warrior Wiremu (Cliff Curtis). When she finds him, both mother and son must decide to which culture they belong. This excerpt from the notoriously ambitious film sees Sarah encountering charismatic chief Te Kai Po (Temuera Morrison).
In early 1944 the Italian town of Cassino was the site of a devastating World War II battle. Kiwi soldiers were part of the Allied forces attacking a German-held stronghold. New Zealand General Bernard Freyberg made the decision to bomb the town, including an iconic 1,400 year-old hilltop monastery. Both sides suffered heavy losses as the Nazis utilised the ruins to their advantage. This documentary follows Kiwi veterans CJ 'Brick' Lorimer and Stewart Black (aka Tai Paraki) as they return to confront the brutality and horror of war, as part of events marking the battle's 60th anniversary.
This Wayne Leonard documentary from 2002 goes on a journey to explore what defines Māori humour. The tu meke tiki tour travels from marae kitchens to TV screens, from original trickster Maui to cheeky kids, from the classic entertainers (including Prince Tui Teka tipping off an elephant) through to Billy T James, arguably the king of Māori comedy. Archive footage is complemented by interviews with well-known and everyday Kiwis, and contemporary comedians (Mike King, Pio Terei). Winston Peters and Tame Iti discuss humour as a political tool.
Eddie (Stacey Tukariri) is a 10-year-old skater who, like many a suburban dreamer, has his sights set on riding the steepest slope in town (the Bullock Track in a pre-gentrified Grey Lynn). Although his father isn't happy about it, Eddie's hero is his teen neighbour Duane: wheelchair bound after wiping out on ‘the hill’. Directed by Tainui Stephens — his first dramatic short — and written by Brett Ihaka, the young Māori odd couple story screened at the Sundance and Berlin Film Festivals. Future Mt Zion director Tearepa Kahi plays Duane, and the score is by hip hop legend DLT.
This documentary tells the life story of entertainer Sir Howard Morrison. He discusses his Te Arawa whakapapa, whānau, and Anglican faith. Made by Bryan Bruce, it Includes footage of Morrison's investiture, a visit to his old school Te Aute, early performances by the Howard Morrison Quartet in Rotorua, and performances from throughout his career. Morrison is candid about his ego, his foray into film, and his marriage. An especially touching moment is a visit to an old Tūhoe friend (Morrison spent his early years in the Urewera) with a cloak made for his father.
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.
Actor/presenter Peter Elliott traces Captain James Cook’s first voyage around New Zealand in this four-part series, which was named Best Documentary Series at the 2002 NZ Television Awards. Starting from the North Island’s east coast, he ventures north before hitching rides down the island’s western side, nipping through Cook Strait on his way down to Lyttelton. The conservation history of Fiordland is explored, as are the rugged seas of the West Coast. Among the many ships Elliott journeys on is Spirit of New Zealand, a square rigger quite similar to Cook's HMS Endeavour.
This NZ TV award-nominated documentary tells the story of radio station Mai FM. Founded in 1992 by Auckland iwi Ngāti Whātua, its mix of hip hop, r’n’b and te reo soon won ratings success. Original breakfast host Robert Rakete recalls early days when the station was a CD player hooked up to an aerial, while Mai FM's champions argue the station has executed its kaupapa: promoting Māori language and culture to the youth of Auckland, including the breakout phrase, “it’s cool to kōrero!” The introduction by Tainui Stephens was done for Māori TV's doco slot He Raranga Kōrero.
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).
This excerpt from the first episode of James Belich’s award-winning history of Māori vs Pākehā armed conflict looks at growing Māori resentment, after the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. The focus is on Ngā Puhi chief Hōne Heke, who sees few concessions to partnership. He is especially incensed by the refusal of the British to fly a Māori flag alongside the Union Jack. His celebrated acts of civil disobedience directed at this symbol of imperial rule flying over Kororāreka (now Russell) lead to the outbreak of war in the north.
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 Belich calls "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".
In this excerpt from James Belich's popular and acclaimed history series, 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 secretly 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.
In this excerpt from James Belich's high-rating Aotearoa history series, the focus returns to Taranaki, where 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, which is 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 ..."
This excerpt from the final part of James Belich's award-winning history series 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.
This bloopers reel comes from a 1998 episode of the pioneering series for rangatahi, which explored te ao Māori (the Māori world) and pop culture. Named 'Mai Stakes', the outtakes montage includes presenters Stacey Daniels Morrison, Teremoana Rapley, Kimo Winiata, Bennett Pomana and Jared Pitman. Daniels Morrison nails her reo, but takes her wig off with her hoodie; and Pitman struggles to get his lines out. The soundtrack is The Jacksons 'Blame It on The Boogie', but the presenters have no one but themselves to blame for these bloopers!
Five-part series The New Zealand Wars took a new look at the history of Māori vs Pākehā armed conflict. It was presented by historian James Belich, who with his arm-waving zeal proved a persuasive on-screen presence: "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 New Zealand Wars was judged Best Documentary at the 1998 Qantas Media Awards.
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: 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 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.
Launched in 1992, Marae is the longest running Māori current affairs programme. It aims to keep its audience in touch with the issues — political or otherwise — that affect Māori, and explain kauapa Māori from a Māori perspective. The Marae Digipoll is seen as a respected barometer of matters Māori. Marae was relaunched briefly in October 2010 as Marae Investigates, presented by Scotty Morrison and Jodi Ihaka Marae (and later Miriama Kamo) . Screening on TV One, Marae is presented half in english and half in te reoi. It is now made by company Pango Productions.
Māori Battalion - March To Victory tells the story of the New Zealand Army's (28th) Māori Battalion, which fought in campaigns during World War ll. Director and writer Tainui Stephens sets out in the feature-length documentary to tell the stories of five men who served with the unit, and also "capture how they felt about it". 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. Stephens writes about the film in the backgrounder.
Directed by Tainui Stephens, this 1990 TVNZ series surveyed Māori contemporary music. This second episode looks at the showband era (1950s - 70s), when musicians mixed genres (electric guitar, rock’n’roll) with Māori culture, to make a unique contribution to Kiwi show business. Acts like The Howard Morrison Quartet, The Māori Volcanics, The Quin Tikis and The Māori Hi-Fives took songs from marae to international cabarets. Music historian Chris Bourke praised the series for marking the role of showbands in the whakapapa of entertainers from Billy T James to Rim D Paul.
This 1988 film details a mission by 100 men to paddle a huge waka taua (war canoe) from Waitangi to Whangaroa, chronicling their spiritual and physical journey en route. The camera takes in training, the gruelling 10 hour, 70 kilometre passage, and the vessel's arrival in Whangaroa Harbour to mark Whangaroa County’s centennial. The waka, Ngātokimatawhaorua, was named after Kupe’s original ocean-voyaging canoe. Beached at Waitangi Treaty Grounds, it is the largest waka in existence. This was veteran filmmaker Tainui Stephens' first documentary as a director.
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.
Regular Māori programmes started on Television New Zealand in 1980 with Koha, a weekly, 30 minute 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 provided a link to urban Māori estranged from their culture. It was the first regular Māori programme to be shown in prime time.