With his 1973 book Tangi, Witi Ihimaera became the first Māori to publish both a novel and a book of short stories. Later his book The Whale Rider inspired a feature film which won international acclaim, and became one of the highest grossing 'foreign' titles released in 2003. Ihimaera's work has also seen a number of television adaptations, including landmark big city tale Big Brother, Little Sister.
I belong to a proud tradition of Māori story-teller on one side and a great tradition of New Zealand writers going all the way back to Katherine Mansfield. It's a fabulous whakapapa. Witi Ihimaera in the NZ Herald, 2004
Inspired by Witi Ihimaera's Bulibasha, Mahana saw director Lee Tamahori making his first film on local soil since a very different family tale: 1994's Once Were Warriors. Temuera Morrison stars as a 60s era farming patriarch who makes it clear his family should have absolutely nothing to do with rival family the Poatas. Then romance enters the picture, and son Simeon sets out to find out how the feud first started. The powerhouse Māori cast includes Nancy Brunning (who is included in the interview clips) and Jim Moriarty. Mahana debuted at the 2016 Berlin Film Festival, before NZ release.
This feature film follows Māori medicine woman Paraiti (played by singer Whirimako Black) on a rare visit to Auckland from her Urewera home. She meets a Māori servant (Rachel House) and is drawn into helping a wealthy Pākehā woman (Outrageous Fortune’s Antonia Prebble) with a scandalous, life-threatening secret. The tale of culture clash and deception in settler Aotearoa was directed by Mexican Dana Rotberg (Otlia Rauda), who adapted the story from Witi Ihimaera novella Medicine Woman. Producer John Barnett was also behind the adaptation of Ihimaera’s Whale Rider.
Charlotte Yates produced Ihimaera Live for the 2011 Auckland Arts Festival. The concert featured lyrics especially written by author Witi Ihimaera, and set to music by 12 NZ composers and 55 musicians. This short documentary for Māori Television includes clips of the performances at Manukau's Events Centre, and interviews with Ihimaera and musicians Warren Maxwell, Horomona Horo and Waimihi Hotere as they search for the rhythm of word and sound. Yates and director Lala Rolls also collaborated on Tuwhare, which documented a musical tribute to Hone Tuwhare.
This docudrama follows an imaginary news reporter who travels back in time to cover the days leading up to the Treaty of Waitangi’s 6 February 1840 signing. The production drops the usual solemnity surrounding Aotearoa’s founding document, and uses humour and asides to camera to evoke the chaos and motives behind its signing. Written by Gavin Strawhan, with Witi Ihimaera, What Really Happened screened on TVNZ for Waitangi Day 2011. Peter Burger won Best Director - Drama/Comedy at the 2011 Aotearoa TV Awards for his work.
After success with short films (This is Her, Redemption) director Katie Wolfe made the transition to longer length story-telling with this 2010 drama. With This is Her writer Kate McDermott she adapted the Witi Ihimaera novel about a 40-something man confronting his double life, and the impact that his coming out as gay has on his wife, kids, and whānau. A key change was turning the book’s Pākehā protagonist to a successful Māori businessman (Calvin Tuteao). It screened on TV One on 23 Jan 2010 and at festivals internationally (where it was entitled Kawa).
This item from arts show Frontseat asks whether it is right for actors to portray other races than their own. Samoan Kiwi David Fane — who won both fans and criticism, after voicing Jeff da Māori on bro'Town — argues that playing another ethnicity is only an issue when the actor does a bad job. Actor Rachel House (Whale Rider) raises wider issues of indigenous people telling their own stories; and Cliff Curtis, known for a wide range of ethnicities on screen, says he needs to be just as careful playing Māori of other iwi, as when he is playing other races.
This animated TV comedy series is a modern day fairytale following the adventures of five kids growing up in one of Auckland's grungier suburbs. With a fearless, un-PC wit and Simpsons-esque celebrity cameos, it managed to be primetime and family-friendly. The popular show was made by Firehorse Films, and developed from the brazen and poly-saturated comedy of theatre group Naked Samoans. Screening on TV3 for five series it won Best Comedy at the NZ Screen Awards three years running and a Qantas Award for Ant Sang's production design. "Morningside for life!"
Historian Michael King's opus was a bridge between Māori and Pākehā; he turned Aotearoa's history into an unprecedented publishing bestseller. History Man traces King's own past, to understand the man and his passion for his work. This doco was commissioned only weeks before King and his wife were tragically killed in a car accident. Nevertheless it is a detailed portrait of a much loved and missed New Zealander. It is another collaboration from this producer/director team, whose subjects include Michael Houstoun, Ian Mune and Barry Crump.
Jonathan Brough’s documentary on the making of Whale Rider travels from the East Coast town of Whangara, where the mythical whale rider Paikea landed, to Hollywood. This excerpt concentrates on the movie’s vital special effects component: nine whales, brought to the screen through a combination of life-sized models and digital effects. The models were made by Auckland company Glasshammer; the largest measured 65 feet in length. The human element was also important, with actor Keisha Castle-Hughes describing the challenges of filming the whale-riding scenes.
Set at the East Coast town of Whāngārā, Whale Rider tells the tale of a young Māori girl, Pai (Keisha Castle-Hughes), who challenges tradition and embraces the past in order to find the strength to lead her people forward. Directed and written by Niki Caro, the film is based on Witi Ihimaera's novel The Whale Rider. Coupling a specific sense of place and culture with a universal coming-of-age story, Whale Rider met with sizeable success worldwide, winning audience choice awards at Sundance and Toronto.
A culture clash story by Witi Ihimaera inspired this comic drama, written and directed by Larry Parr. Set in the 1940s — perfectly evoked in the mist-shrouded Taranaki hamlet of Whangamomona — the short film focuses on the conflict between a local tohunga, Mr Hohepa, and feisty Pākehā Mrs Jones (Annie Whittle), as viewed by the young boy who helps deliver her mail and groceries (Julian Arahanga, in his screen debut). The locals think Hohepa has placed a makutu (or curse) on Mrs Jones; but could more basic human emotions — beyond the boy’s experience — be at work?
Witi Ihimaera was the first Māori writer to publish a book of short stories (Pounamu Pounamu) and a novel (Tangi). In this wide-ranging Kaleidoscope profile Ihimaera (here in his late 30s) talks about being “the boy from the sticks made good”, and conforming to expectations: “do I want to be the literary voice of the Māori people? No”. He discusses editing influential anthology Into the World of Light and the camera accompanies him on a Wellington circuit, as he roller-skates, and visits Newtown’s Black Power HQ. George Henare reads excerpts from Ihimaera’s work.
This 1981 NFU film is a tour of the contemporary world of Aotearoa’s tangata whenua. It won headlines over claims that its portrayal of Māori had been sanitised for overseas viewers. Debate and a recut ensued. Writer Witi Ihimaera felt that mentions of contentious issues (Bastion Point, the land march) in his original script were ignored or elided in the final film, and withdrew from the project. He later told journalists that the controversy showed that educated members of minority groups were no longer prepared to let the majority interpret the minority view.
Tangata Whenua was a groundbreaking six part documentary series that screened (remarkably in primetime on Sunday nights) in 1974. Each episode chronicled a different iwi and included interviews conducted by historian Michael King with kaumatua. These remain a priceless historical record. The script, written by King and director Barry Barclay, won a Feltex Award. The NZBC said the series had "possibly done more towards helping the European understand the Māori people, their traditions and way of life, than anything else previously shown on television".