Paora Maxwell has produced, directed or executive produced hundreds of hours of television, and run his own production company.
Maxwell was born to a Māori forestry worker from a poor "but very proud family", and a middle class Pākehā woman from Dunedin. As he told Herald writer Michele Hewitson, it was his mother who made sure that he and his older sister kept in touch with their Māori heritage, taking them along to a Māori club after the family moved from Rotorua to Dunedin.
Maxwell’s broadcasting career began in Dunedin in 1988, directing on iconic educational programme Play School. Maxwell would spend a week rehearsing on the show, then a week directing. He was directing when Play School broadcast its first Māori story in te reo. Then he had "great fun" on the team for children’s slot 3:45 LIVE! pushing the boundaries of the "pokey studio" and available resources.
After moving to the Māori Programmes department at Television New Zealand in Auckland, Maxwell worked as a director on Marae and pioneering bilingual sitcom Radio Wha Waho. Set in a rural iwi radio station, the latter show was partly inspired by Brent Leslie's memories of fellow staffmembers at TVNZ's Māori Programmes department. Maxwell directed half the episodes, with TV veteran Derek Wooster handling the rest.
With a Bachelor of Science (majoring in physiology) from Otago University and a Nuffield leadership scholarship on his CV, Maxwell launched company Te Aratai Productions in the early 90s. Over 15 years the company produced hundreds of hours of Māori programming for everyone from TVNZ and TV3, to Sky and Māori Television.
A passion for Māori story-telling saw his company producing showsfor pre-schoolers (roughly 150 episodes of Tikitiki); for youth (Tū Te Puehu) through to variety show Mika Live, and documentaries like Rangatira: In the Blood, which chronicles colourful ex MP Donna Awatere Huata. Te Aratai Productions also made eight series of youth sports show, Tū Te Puehu for various channels. The series would be a training ground for many future Māori broadcasters.
In 2008, Maxwell aspired to follow in the footsteps of his tipuna Ernie Leonard and another TVNZ head of Māori Programming, Whai Ngata, after winning the bid to become General Manager of TVNZ's Māori and Pacific Programmes Department. Maxwell later decribed it as "a big responsibility and a great honour". Making the announcement, TVNZ Head of Television Jeff Latch praised Maxwell’s combination of professional expertise, plus “wide-ranging connections within both Māoridom and the broadcasting community”.
As Executive Producer, Maxwell commanded a Māori programming slate which included Waka Huia, Te Karere, current affairs show Marae, and Tagata Pasifika. Maxwell set about reinvigorating some of the department's key shows, and successfully campaigned for news programme Te Karere be extended from a 15 minute news break to a half hour.
Maxwell began as Chief Executive at Māori Television in May 2014, after the departure of previous CEO Jim Mather. In this video interview, he argued that the channel's mission was to engender a love and appreciation of Māori culture, and share it with all New Zealanders.
In May 2017 Maxwell announced that he would be stepping down from Māori Television in August, due to "changing family and business circumstances". He planned to stay on in a consultancy role until the end of 2017.
Paora Maxwell was a founding executive member of Ngā Aho Whakaari, which represents independent Māori producers, and was chairperson for two years. He has also served on Aotearoa New Zealand’s Te Māngai Pāho (Māori Broadcasting) Advisory Group and is a former board member of Te Putahi Pāoho, the Māori Television Electoral College.
Profile written and researched by Anahera Higgins
'Paora Maxwell: On being committed to Māori broadcasting...' (Video Interview) NZ On Screen website. Director Andrew Whiteside. Loaded 7 March 2016. Accessed 7 March 2016
Michele Hewitson, ‘Michele Hewitson: Paoro Maxwell’ (Interview) – NZ Herald, 17 May 2014
‘Paora Maxwell’ Māori Television website (broken link). Accessed 7 March 2016
‘TVNZ Appoints New General Manager Maori Programmes’ (Press Release) Scoop website. Loaded 19 June 2008. Accessed 7 March 2016
Online News Team, 'Paora Maxwell announces resignation from Māori Television' Māori Television website. Loaded 8 May 2017. Accessed 8 May 2017