Taika Waititi's blockbuster second movie revolves around an imaginative 11-year-old East Coast boy (James Rolleston) trying to make sense of his world — and the return of his just-out-of-jail father (Waititi). Intended as a "painful comedy of growing up", Boy mixes poignancy with trademark whimsy and visual inventiveness. The film was shot in the Bay of Plenty area where Waititi partly grew up. A winner in its section at the 2010 Berlin Film Festival, Boy soon became the most successful local release on its home soil (at least until the arrival of Waititi's 2016 hit Hunt for the Wilderpeople).
In this excerpt from Marae, Elle Hughes interviews John O'Shea about producing groundbreaking documentary series Tangata Whenua. Prior to its 1974 screening in primetime — significant, in a time of single channel TV — Māori "lacked a voice" on the Pākehā medium of television. O'Shea says the aim was "a better understanding. We wanted to listen to what the Māori people said". Tangata Whenua captured interviews with kaumatua from different iwi for posterity, and increased Pākehā understanding of land grievances, including the Tainui-led occupation in Raglan in the 1970s.
This film outlines the efforts to transform the “barren” pumice lands of the North Island’s Central Plateau into arable farmland. Once scientists discover the magic missing ingredient that will make the soil more fertile (cobalt chloride), the serious job of burning scrub, ploughing and sowing begins. The film uses a traditional 'triumph over nature' narrative, but director John Feeney makes elegant use of montage and composition. Author Maurice Shadbolt, who spent time working at the National Film Unit, regarded it as "without doubt the best film to come from the Unit".
Drama and commercials director Peter Burger (Until Proven Innocent, Fish Skin Suit) is profiled in this episode from a bilingual Māori Television series about artists. In this extract, he traces the origins of his career to a “crazy little accident” in the form of drama lessons taken to correct a childhood lisp. His early aspirations to be an actor were soon eclipsed by a fascination with the process of directing. Making adverts provided him with a chance to develop and hone the storytelling skills he would apply to television and film.
“When old and young come together to do this, it shows the strength of their convictions.” This film is a detailed chronicle of a key moment in the Māori renaissance: the 1975 land march led by then 79-year-old Whina Cooper. A coalition of Māori groups set out from the far north for Wellington, opposed to further loss of their land. This early Geoff Steven documentary includes interviews with many on the march, including Eva Rickard, Tama Poata and Whina Cooper. There is stirring evidence of Cooper’s oratory skills. Steven writes about making the film in the backgrounder.
Aroha depicts a young Māori chief's daughter who embraces the modernity of the Pākehā world (attending university in Wellington) while confronting her place with her own people (Te Arawa) and traditions at home. The NFU-produced dramatisation is didactic but largely sensitive in making Aroha's story represent contemporary Māori dilemmas (noted anthropologist Ernest Beaglehole was the cultural advisor). Watch out for some musical treats, including an instrumental version of classic Kiwi song, 'Blue Smoke' and a performance of the action song 'Me He Manu Rere'.
For this documentary director Gaylene Preston goes behind the scenes during the making of Geoff Murphy's Utu — his ambitious 'puha western' set during the 1870s land wars. “It’s like football innit? You set up the event and cover it…” says Murphy, as he prepares to shoot a battle scene. In this excerpt, the film’s insistence on cultural respect is conveyed: Merata Mita discusses the beauty of ta moko as star Anzac Wallace is transformed into Te Wheke in the makeup chair, and Martyn Sanderson reflects on having his head remade to be blown off: “What’s the time Mr Wolf?”.
People of the Waikato makes frequent pitstops along the 425 km path of NZ's longest river. Made in an era of post-war electricity shortages, the film balances requisite beautiful scenery with excursions into the Waikato's extensive hydroelectric system: including then-unfinished fourth dam Whakamaru, whose development was slowed by the discovery of clay in the foundation rock. Alongside brief glimpses of those who live and work on the river, there is footage of stunt-filled canoe races, Turangawaewae Marae, and a veteran boatman tugging coal.
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.
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.