Actor/Director [Ngāti Paoa/Ngāti Hine]
Christchurch-raised Tearepa Kahi began acting and playing saxophone as a teen, then spent two years in a theatre troupe run by Jim Moriarty. He went on to study history and Māori at Auckland University, and act — including a role in landmark te reo film The Māori Merchant of Venice (2002). Since then he has directed documentaries, award-winning shorts, and movie Mt Zion, starring Stan Walker — the most successful local cinema release of 2012. Kahi followed it with two feature-length music documentaries: acclaimed, Moa-nominated hit Poi E: The Story of Our Song, and 2019's Herbs - Songs of Freedom.
... Kahi serves it all up with obvious love, a quietly watchful pace and a sunbaked visual style. The result is a smart, finely-observed, heartfelt drama of good humour and decent tunes against an authentic local setting. Russell Baillie, reviewing movie Mt Zion in The NZ Herald, 6 February 2013
Reggae band Herbs hold a special place in the history of New Zealand pop music, mixing feel-good rhythms with burning social and environmental issues. The original line-up consisted of five musicians from across the Pacific. Their string of hits in the 80s and 90s helped Aotearoa forge a new Pacific identity. For this documentary director Tearepa Kahi (Poi E: The Story of Our Song, Mt Zion) captures the band's reunion, and interviews key members about the protest movement that lit a fire under the group, their chart topping success, and famous collaborations.
Merata Mita argued forcefully that the voices of Māori and of women were sorely lacking on-screen. Best known for her Springbok tour documentary Patu!, the straight-talking director and actor later set up an indigenous filmmaking programme in Hawai'i, and spoke about indigenous film around the globe. After Mita passed away in 2010, her youngest son Hepi began making a film about her — discovering new sides to his mother as he trawled through footage, and interviewed his older siblings. The feature-length documentary debuted at the 2018 NZ International Film Festival.
Taika Waititi's fourth feature is the tale of a city kid and a grumpy uncle on the run. Raised on hip hop and state care, Ricky (Shopping's Julian Dennison) goes bush with his foster uncle (Sam Neill). The authorities are on their tail. In this excerpt, the pair get caught, and s**t gets real. Wilderpeople is based on Barry Crump book Wild Pork and Watercress. Keen to recapture the style of classic screen yarns like Came a Hot Friday, Waititi's aim was a funny, accessible adventure. The result won acclaim almost everywhere it went, and became New Zealand's biggest ever local hit.
Poi E: The Story of Our Song tells the story behind one of New Zealand’s most iconic pop songs. Led by Dalvanius Prime, the Patea Māori Club single was released soon after the closure of the town’s freezing works. Conquering disinterest from record labels and radio, Poi E became New Zealand's highest selling single in 1984. Written and directed by Tearepa Kahi (Mt Zion), the "warm, funny, touching" documentary (NZ Herald) features interviews with those involved, and famous fans (eg Taika Waititi). Poi E won applause after premiering at the opening of the 2016 Auckland Film Festival.
Te Ao Māori meets 70s kung fu movies in this Māori TV series, as a modern guide travels back to pre-Pākehā times to introduce "the greatest warriors of the past". Kairākau uses modern filmmaking tools (including roving camerawork, and the kinetic style of action films like 300) to explore ancestral history and showcase Māori martial arts. This first episode tells of Tunohopu’s utu, after an ambush by a Tūwharetoa war party sees the capture of his son and brother. Kairākau was created by Rangi Rangitukunoa. Kapa haka expert Wetini Mitai-Ngātai choreographs the martial arts.
Australian Idol winner Stan Walker made his acting debut in this hit feature, as aspiring singer Turei. Part of a whānau of Māori potato pickers from Pukekohe, he has to choose between duty to job and family (Temuera Morrison plays his hard-working Dad) and letting the music play. His dilemma takes place as reggae star Bob Marley performs in Aotearoa in 1979, offering the chance for Turei's band Small Axe to win a supporting slot at Marley's Western Springs concert. Released on Waitangi Day 2013, Tearepa Kahi's debut feature became the most successful local release of the year.
The award-winning directing debut of actor Tammy Davis (better known as Outrageous Fortune’s Munter) is a South Auckland-set Christmas tale. Young Vinnie (Darcey-Ray Flavell-Hudson of Ghost Chips fame) and Jonah (James Ru) are bored on the mean streets — tagging, BMX-ing — when Jonah peer pressures Vinnie to join him in breaking and entering a house. When they find more than Christmas pressies inside, it tests mateship, moral codes and festive spirit. Crowned Best Film at Flickerfest, Ebony Society was selected for the Berlin and Sundance film festivals.
A party of returning raiders hauls a massive waka taua (war canoe) through dense Waitakere bush, driven by their brutally insistent chief towards safety. Two water-boys are crouched in the bow. One of them risks a bold act of compassion — towards the trophy prisoner tied to the stern. The impressively-produced portage has echoes of Werner Herzog movie Fitzcarraldo, but the story is palpably Māori. Directed by Tearepa Kahi, Taua won Best Short at National Geographic’s 2007 All Roads festival, and was selected for the Berlin, Rotterdam and Clermont-Ferrand festivals.
A graffiti artist (Ropata Matthews) gets sprung by the cops while tagging. But his younger brother ends up being the fall guy and at the receiving end of long arm of the law. The hero heads into the Tamaki night, and with spray can and marker signs his views on politics (including on one of the infamous Iwi/Kiwi billboards from the 2005 National Party campaign). Ultimately he’ll need more than words to repay his brother. Co-written with Savage, the film was the first dramatic short directed by actor Tearepa Kahi (Mt Zion). It was invited to play at the Berlin and Clermont-Ferrand Film Festivals.
Lovers move towards each other through space and time in this episode of te reo series Aroha. Tapu (Cliff Curtis) plays a doctor who is unnerved by the strange behaviour of elderly patient Kahu. Kahu's death affects his niece Irikura (Ngarimu Daniels) deeply, and at the tangi secrets are revealed. Tapu and Irikura are haunted by visions of a shared past; Kahu's ghost has plans for them. This episode played in black and white. Celebrated Māori actor and mentor Don Selwyn plays Kahu. Director Guy Moana created tā moko and carvings for classic 1994 film Once Were Warriors.
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.
Described as a "Māori Twilight Zone", Mataku was a series of half-hour dramatic narratives steeped in Māori experience with the "unexplained". Two South Pacific Pictures-produced series screened on TV3; a later series screened on TV One in 2005. Each episode was introduced by Temuera Morrison Rod Serling-style. The bi-lingual series was a strong international and domestic success; producer Carey Carter: "Our people are very spiritual ... and here we are ... turning it into stories so that the rest of the world can get a glimpse of that aspect of our culture."
Shortland Street is a fast-paced serial drama set in an inner city Auckland hospital. The long-running South Pacific Pictures production is based around the births, deaths and marriages of the hospital's staff and patients. It screens on TVNZ’s TV2 network five days a week. In 2017 the show was set to celebrate its 25th anniversary, making it New Zealand’s longest running drama by far. Characters and lines from the show have entered the culture — starting with “you’re not in Guatemala now, Dr Ropata!” in the very first episode. Mihi Murray writes about Shortland Street here.