Legend of Birds

Short Film, 1962 (Full Length)

This 1962 National Film Unit short uses the relationship between Māori and manu (birds) as a platform to celebrate New Zealand bush birds — from food source and key roles in myth, to their general character. Legend of Birds was filmed on Kāpiti and Little Barrier Islands. Many of the images were captured by noted nature photographers Kenneth and Jean Bigwood, and the score is by composer Larry Pruden. The narration includes a rap-style tribute to the  kākā parrot: “squarks about his indigestion, population and congestion … politics the current question”.

Haka - A Musical and a History

Short Film, 1988 (Full Length)

In Haka Māori myth is re-told through a series of stirring haka performances. Men stomp, invoke, and do pūkana (tongue out, eyes wide) amidst spitting mud and fire and ... in Paremoremo Prison and under a motorway. These scenes are intercut with archive imagery of post-pākehā Māori life, from first contact to Maori Battalion, urban drift and protest. The film is a tribute to the raw power, and art, of haka. Ultimately the Once Were Warriors-like message "is positive because of the fierce, irresistible pride of the performances." Peter Calder, (NZ Herald, 1989)

Adventures in Māoriland - Alexander Markey and the Making of Hei Tiki

Television, 1985 (Full Length)

After being fired from his first New Zealand film Under the Southern Cross in the late 1920s, American director Alexander Markey returned to make Hei Tiki. Following a sometimes tense shoot, mostly around Taupō, he departed Aotearoa, leaving badwill and fears he'd stolen a number of taonga in his wake. Inspired partly by Māori legend, Hei Tiki sank quickly when finally released in 1935. This documentary features extensive clips from the movie, plus interviews with surviving cast and crew — including co-star Ben Biddle, and pioneering cameraman Ted Coubray. 

My Kainga My Castle

Television, 2000 (Full Length)

Rotorua may be famous for its picture perfect scenery, but dig a little deeper under the boiling mud and you'll find a history bubbling with warfare, adventure and romance. This TV One documentary, presented by Te Arawa's own Sir Howard Morrison, traces the iwi's origins —from a fight over a beloved dog in Hawaiki, to the shores of Maketū in the Bay of Plenty. Morrison travels around the Rotorua region visiting important historical sites like Mokoia Island and his home marae at Ōhinemutu, on the shores of Lake Rotorua. Paul Gittins (Epitaph) directed the one-off special.

The Legend of the Whanganui River

Short Film, 1952 (Full Length)

This documentary film tells the story of the Whanganui River. It recounts a Māori myth believing the river is the path carved by a god (Pukeonaki aka Mt Taranaki) in its journey from the volcanic plateau to the west coast. There is beautifully shot footage of Māori paddling a waka under tui-laden matai, and tourists cruising on steamers. In 1950 the NFU had become part of the Department of Tourism and Publicity (after accusations of political bias); and this film reflects the change, with a triumphant narrative of progress underpinning an often-bloody river history.

Uenuku

Television, 1974 (Full Length)

Geoff Murphy (Utu) directed this freewheeling adaptation of the Māori legend of Uenuku and his affair with mist maiden Hinepūkohurangi. The story of love, betrayal, and redemption was the first Māori myth adapted for TV — and the first TV drama performed entirely in te reo. The Listener softened viewers by printing a translation before it aired. Filmed at the Waimarama base of Murphy and cinematographer Alun Bollinger, Uenuku was produced by company Peach Wemyss Astor for the NZ Broadcasting Corporation — a rare independently produced TV drama in the 1970s. 

Hot Earth

Short Film, 1955 (Full Length)

This 1955 film looks at the “savage” geology of the North Island volcanic region, and its human settlement. Te Arawa myth introduces the steaming valleys of volcano and quake god Rūaumoko. The film then surveys geothermal activity and its exploitation by Māori and Pākehā, from cooking to heating hospital radiators. It ends with a dramatic geyser display in front of tourists. Guide Rangi cameos. It screened at the Edinburgh Film Festival, and was John Feeney’s last National Film Unit gig before directing Oscar-nominated films for the National Film Board of Canada.

Mai Time - Final Episode

Television, 2007 (Full Length Episode)

Mai Time was an influential magazine show for Māori youth, exploring te ao Māori and pop culture (it was one of the first shows to screen local hip-hop), with presenters speaking in te reo and English. This one hour final looks back over the 12 years of the show, beginning with a roll call of hosts: including Stacey Morrison (nee Daniels), Quinton Hita, and Teremoana Rapley. Current hosts Olly Coddington and Gabrielle Paringatai look at the show’s impact and legacy, as well as Stacey’s “mad facial expressions”, Patara’s Stubbies and Quinton’s Peter Andre tribute.

Volcanic Power

Short Film, 1962 (Full Length)

This 1962 film about geothermal power generation begins with animated sequences telling the Māori legend of how the North Island’s volcanoes were created. Then it explores the “crazy idea” of volcanic power, and how New Zealand might harness its potential. At Wairakei, roads have collapsed and the ground can rumble: “nothing is ever quite predictable on this battleground for power”. Nearby, steam is used for heating, hangi, bathing, and … growing pineapples. The animation was handled by Mike Walker (later producer of Kingi’s Story), of Levin-based Morrow Productions.

Kupe - Voyaging by the Stars

Television, 1993 (Full Length)

According to Māori legend Aotearoa was found by the explorer Kupe, chasing an octopus from Ra'iatea, Tahiti. This documentary follows Northland building contractor Hekenukumai 'Hector' Busby, as he leads the construction of a waka hourua (double-hulled canoe), then retraces Kupe's course across the Pacific, back to Rarotonga. Busby first heads to Tahiti to learn navigation methods used by Polynesia's great ocean voyagers, then returns home to fell a kauri and begin building Te Aurere. Busby would go on to build at least another 20 waka; he passed away in May 2019.