Veteran broadcaster Tainui Stephens has worn many hats in New Zealand's screen industry. He has been a producer for television, radio and film; and also a presenter, director, writer and cultural advisor.
Born to a Māori father and a Pākehā mother in Christchurch, Stephens grew up "in a very Pākehā world, and went to a very good Pākehā school". His father left home while he was still a child. At university a grant from the Māori Education Foundation helped him embrace his Māori side. Feeling guilty about gaining monetarily for "something I physically was, biologically was, but culturally wasn't". he visited the university's Māori club. Singing Tutira Mai Ngā Iwi was a moment he'll never forget. That night he changed his course and began learning more about Māoridom.
In 1980 Stephens got a job as an investigator at the Race Relations Office. As one of three investigating officers, he found himself looking into cases of discrimination which "veered from the blatant to the darkly discreet". Stephens has played tribute to his boss, "naturally diplomatic" Race Relations Conciliator Hiwi Tauroa. "There is a place in my heart for the men and women who shaped me with the example of their own habits, and who did it with love."
Stephens' notes with relish that he began at Television New Zealand on April Fools' Day 1984, as a researcher and reporter on Television New Zealand series Koha. "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."
Stephens found that television fitted him like a glove — whether on-screen or producing and directing, "I love it all; I ate it up." At ease working in both Māori and English, Stephens has developed uniquely Māori storytelling screen formats for indigenous and mainstream audiences. Programmes like Te Kōhanga 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 journey by war canoe from Waitangi to Whangaroa.
In 1990 Stephens directed and produced Māori Battalion - March to Victory, a documentary marking the battalion's 50th anniversary. He writes about the experience here: including his intention to go beyond "recording the mere facts of the war of these men — to trying to capture how they felt about it".
Shortly before he left TVNZ in 2000, came high-rating series The New Zealand Wars (1998). Presented by historian James Belich, the five-part series chronicled the 19th century civil wars between Māori and Pākehā. The New Zealand Wars won Best Documentary at the 1998 Qantas Media Awards. XXXXX Add some drama on this
Stephens was confident that Māori Television would do well. After its launch in 2004, Stephens went on to work on many projects for the new network. He directed three-part documentary He Whare Kōrero, in which Tuhoe scholar Timoti Karetu traces the renaissance of the Māori 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 Kōhanga Reo movement, and the life of Iritana Tawhiwhirangi, a key player in its establishment.
Other Māori Television projects include World War ll stories Requiem for Charlie, and Hitler & the Gumdiggers. He has also directed and produced a wide range of entertainment shows, from It's in the Bag to My Reggae Song.
His first time directing drama was 2002 short film The Hill. Selected for the 2002 Sundance and Berlin festivals, it told of a XXXXXXXXXXX . 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 Ward's acclaimed feature-length documentary Rain of the Children. He was on the producing team of Toa Fraser's te reo action movie The Dead Lands, and the television of the same name, which was commissioned by TVNZ and American cable network AMC. Stephens has also produced two short films directed by Libby Hakaraia: The Lawnmowermen of Kapu, and The Gravedigger of Kapu .
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". Initiative Te Paepae Ataata enabled the production of Himiona Grace feature The Pā Boys. This effort was a forerunner to later Film Commission policies aimed at supporting Māori filmmakers.
Stephens is a former 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 mentoring roles, 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. He was one of the founding members of the Māoriland Film Festival in Ōtaki.
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 Mō Tātou and Bub & Nen.
Profile updated on XX May 2019
'Tainui Stephens: Foremost Māori broadcaster..' (Video Interview), NZ On Screen Website. Director Clare O’Leary. Loaded 17 May 2009. Accessed XX May 2019
Tainui Stephens, ' The Boss is Dead: A Tribute to Hiwi Tauroa' E-Tangata website. Loaded 3 February 2019. Accessed XX May 2019
Blue Back Productions website. Accessed 29 April 2019
'He Waahi Korero' (Interview) - Onfilm, November 2003
Te Paepae Ataata website. Accessed 19 September 2012