Lower Hutt-raised Libby Hakaraia begun her broadcasting career as a 17 year-old, in a smoky Radio Waikato newsroom. A field report she filed on the Edgecumbe earthquake scored a work offer in Auckland. There the cub reporter encountered reactionary radio ‘jocks’ and editors, and covered Māori protests.
A cultural consciousness began to dawn: “It was brought to my attention by some Māori that I was mispronouncing place names and shamefully that I was mispronouncing my last name.”
Veteran broadcasters Henare Te Ua and Haare Williams gave Hakaria an opportunity on new station Radio Aotearoa, where the 20 year-old ran a news team of six journalists. A gig at Australia’s ABC (including reporting from the Barcelona Olympics) was followed by an OE crewing yachts.
Drawn back to Aotearoa, she paired up with Te Ua for a seven year stint on National Radio’s Māori magazine show Whenua. “Henare would take me all over the country: to marae, to hui of national significance, and to meet all manner of people. We broadcast from major events for Māoridom. He was a superb broadcaster and a wonderful mentor.”
In the late 90s Hakaraia began transferring 14 years of journalism to the screen: first as a researcher, then directing segments of arts series Mercury Lane, associate producing state-of-the-Māori nation doco The Truth about Māori, and writing another award-nominated doco, Hell for Leather (1999), about high-flying businesswoman Karroll Brent-Edmondson.
“I quickly realised that if I wanted to tell a Māori perspective on television I would have to find a like-minded Māori producer to work with. I was fortunate to meet Rhonda Kite.”
Paired with Kite at Kiwa Productions, Hakaraia went on to wrangle or direct dozens of TV documentaries, many dealing with Māori subjects. Among them were Pākehā Māori (a historical doco on Pākehā settlers who ‘went native’), Whangai - Who Gets Baby (on Māori concepts of child-rearing via the wider whānau) and long-running arts series Kete Aronui.
Hakaraia now lives in Otaki, where she shifted from Auckland to realise her dream of setting up a production company there (Hakaraia has strong whānau connections in the North Island town). In 2004 Hakaraia founded Blue Bach Productions; the company's documentaries have ranged in subject from the close to home (the human story of nearby wildlife sanctuary Kapiti Island) to far afield (a Euro tour doco for Fat Freddy’s Drop).
She produced 26 episodes of Māori Television series Tatai Hono, which follows people discovering their Māori whakapapa (roots). Other topics include Anzac Day veteran stories and the songs of Apirana Ngata.
On the challenges of being a freelance producer based away from the metropolitan centres, Hakaraia said in a 2012 NZ Herald interview: “It's about the ukaipo: the wellspring; the nurturing of creativity and the soul. The only hindrance is having to leave to go elsewhere to meetings.”
One way that Hakaraia and her romantic and business partner, veteran producer Tainui Stephens, have fronted up to the tyranny of distance is by bringing audiences to them. In 2014 they founded the Māoriland Film Festival, an Otaki-based showcase of indigenous productions and talent.
They’ve also taken things on the road to produce multiple seasons of popular Māori Television series It’s in the Bag. The reboot of the Kiwi TV classic travels to the regions, where presenters Pio Terei and Stacey Morrison barter with contestants for te moni or te kete. Hakaraia argues that the series marks New Zealand’s largest outside broadcast production besides Sky Sports, and she is proud of its contribution to Māori and regional screen culture.
“We do the series on the smell of an oily rag with 33 people in our crew including some incredibly experienced crew in film and television and some absolute newbies. We use it as both a training ground for new people and also to push us all into creating the best we can in small towns around NZ.”
Filmed by the same crew as It's in the Bag are live music series, My Country Song and My Reggae Song.
Hakaraia has been an executive member of the board of both Ngā Aho Whakaari and SPADA. In 2014 she was a finalist in the national Women of Influence Awards. She has also produced promos for Tourism NZ and Māori Tourism.
The Lawnmower Men of Kapu (2011) was Hakaraia’s dramatic directing debut. She also penned the story about a nephew trying to wrangle his three lawnmowing uncles to tidy up unruly marae grounds. Filmed at her local Te Pou o Tainui marae, it travelled internationally to indigenous film festivals and won the People’s Choice prize at the 2012 Wairoa Māori Film Festival.
Hakaraia describes it as her most challenging project to date, “because it involved my family and was shot at my marae here in Otaki. I didn't want to make the type of mistake that saw me run out of town! As it is my whānau and hapu have now claimed the film as all of theirs which makes me very very humbled and proud.”
Two shorts that Hakaria has produced have been selected for the Berlin Film Festival: Hawaikii (2006) and Kehua (2009).
Hakaraia is passionate about local and indigenous storytelling, and using contemporary tools to reach wider audiences. She argues that Māori filmmaking "is a way to empower our communities. It is a process that our culture understands inherently. After all, we are merely lending images to stories we have always shared.”