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.
When Meng Foon stood down as mayor of Gisborne after 18 years in 2019, he was Aotearoa's only mayor to be fluent in te reo Māori. In this subtitled te reo documentary, Gisborne locals praise Foon's ability to walk in both the Māori and Pākehā world. Kaumatua Charlie Pera admits some Māori were initially hesitant about a Chinese person speaking te reo, but they were soon won over by Foon's passion for their language and tikanga, and his advocacy of their issues. Foon, who was raised in Gisborne to market gardener parents, became Race Relations Commissioner in late 2019.
John O'Shea was godfather to generations of Kiwi filmmakers; he was an inspirational force committed to bringing new perspectives to the screen. As Ngati actor Wi Kuki Kaa put it, "had he been a Māori, he would have been a kaumatua years ago". This documentary backgrounds O'Shea and his pioneering indie production company Pacific Films, ranging from his efforts to put Māori on screen, to banned 60s ads. The cast provides proof positive of O'Shea's influence — amongst the ex-Pacific staff interviewed are the late Barry Barclay, Tony Williams and Gaylene Preston.
Gary McCormick heads west to Raglan, to ask "What goes on here? Why do people live here? What do they do?". To find out he goes surfing on the famous left-hand point break, hangs with hippies and Dave McArtney, catches Midge Marsden and the Mudsharks at the Harbour View Hotel, and discusses land rights with kaumatua Sam Kereopa. The recipe — McCormick as genial small town anthropologist discovering the locals — earned this a 1989 LIFTA award, and inspired long-running series Heartland. McArtney composed the soundtrack; Finola Dwyer (An Education) produces.
Tangata Whenua was a groundbreaking six-part documentary series that screened (remarkably in primetime) in 1974. Each episode chronicled a different iwi and included interviews by historian Michael King with kaumātua. These remain a priceless historical record. The Feltex Award-winning script was by King and director Barry Barclay. The NZBC said the series had "possibly done more towards helping the European understand the Māori people, their traditions and way of life, than anything else previously shown on television". Paul Diamond writes about Tangata Whenua here.
Actor turned producer/director Julian Arahanga made his screen debut at age 11, starring alongside Annie Whittle in short film The Makutu on Mrs Jones. He shot to fame playing novice gang member Nig Heke in landmark movie Once Were Warriors, then went on to act in a number of films including Broken English. Since setting up his own production company Awa Films, Arahanga has directed and produced TV series Songs from the Inside and acclaimed documentary Turangaarere: The John Pohe Story.
A 'waka huia' is traditionally a treasure box to hold the revered huia feather. Waka Huia the TV series records and preserves Māori culture and customs. The long-running series also covers social and political concerns of the day, taking a snapshot of Māori history. Waka Huia is seen as a taonga for future generations and is presented completely in te reo Māori. This first episode is about the language and its survival, and features groundbreaking TV interviews with Sir James Henare and Dame Mira Szaszy.
In this series celebrating New Zealand's national parks, Peter Hayden travels through some of Aotearoa's most awe-inspiring environments. This episode — looking at the unique spiritual relationship between the Tūhoe people, and the birds and bush of Te Urewera National Park — was directed by Barry Barclay (Ngati). Barclay used his fourth cinema philosophy of indigenous filmmaking, "to tell the contemporary story of the park through their [Tūhoe] eyes". The film attracted controversy for its then exceptional use of te reo. Catherine Bisley writes about the Journeys series here.
In this episode of the Journeys in National Parks series, presenter Peter Hayden looks at the primeval, remote wilderness of Fiordland National Park. We learn of how the god Tu-te-raki-whanoa crafted the fiords out of sheer cliffs with his adze, "so the sea might run in and there'd be quiet places for people to live". On boats and along the Milford Track, Hayden traces the "memory trails" of the few who have braved the area: Māori pounamu collectors, sealers, cray fishermen, early naturalists Georg and Johann Forster, and pioneering conservationist Richard Henry.
This 76-minute documentary looks at efforts to restore the mauri (life spirit) of Northland's Lake Omapere, a large fresh water lake — and taonga to the Ngāpuhi people — made toxic by pollution. Simon Marler's film offers a timely challenge to New Zealand's 100% Pure branding, and an argument for kaitiakitanga (guardianship) that respects ecological and spiritual well-being. There is spectacular footage of the lake's endangered long-finned eel. Barry Barclay in Onfilm called the film "powerful, sobering". It screened at the 2008 National Geographic All Roads Film Festival.