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.
The largest gathering ever seen of Māori tribal war canoes (waka taua) was one of the centrepieces of the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1990. This documentary, narrated by Tukuroirangi Morgan, followed the ambitious countrywide programme to build the ornately carved waka, and assemble them at Waitangi as a demonstration of Māori pride and unity. The 22 strong fleet, powered by 1000 paddlers, also fulfilled a dream of Tainui leader Princess Te Puea Herangi that had been curtailed 50 years earlier by World War II.
Vincent Ward's fifth feature follows an Irishwoman in 1860s New Zealand, as Māori tribes resist the occupation of their land by the British. Sarah (Samantha Morton) has had an affair with a Māori and borne his child. Years later the boy is kidnapped by his grandfather, a powerful tribal leader. Sarah embarks on a search for her child, aided by warrior Wiremu (Cliff Curtis). When she finds him, both mother and son must decide to which culture they belong. This excerpt from the notoriously ambitious film sees Sarah encountering charismatic chief Te Kai Po (Temuera Morrison).
This National Film Unit documentary records the 18-month-long building process of a waka taua (war canoe): from the felling of the trees — opening with an awe-inspiring shot of the giant totara selected by master carver Piri Poutapu — to the ceremonial launch. The waka was commissioned by Māori Queen, Te Arikinui Dame Te Atairangikaahu, and built at Tūrangawaewae Marae. The Harry Dansey-narrated film was significant in showing the importance of the canoe-building kaupapa alongside the everyday lives of the workers (at the freezing works, the pub).
This 1988 film details a mission by 100 men to paddle a huge waka taua (war canoe) from Waitangi to Whangaroa, chronicling their spiritual and physical journey en route. The camera takes in training, the gruelling 10 hour, 70 kilometre passage, and the vessel's arrival in Whangaroa Harbour to mark Whangaroa County’s centennial. The waka, Ngātokimatawhaorua, was named after Kupe’s original ocean-voyaging canoe. Beached at Waitangi Treaty Grounds, it is the largest waka in existence. This was veteran filmmaker Tainui Stephens' first documentary as a director.
A request from Holland's National Museum of Ethnology to acquire a Māori war canoe (waka taua) as a permanent exhibit resulted in master builder Hector Busby being commissioned to craft one. Jan Bieringa’s film looks at the history of waka, and follows the project from construction and launch, to the training of a Dutch crew and arrival in Holland. The first waka to permanently leave New Zealand shores makes a surreal sight on the canals of Abel Tasman’s birthplace. Onfilm reviewer Helen Martin praised it as "a special film about a very special project."
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.
Tainui Stephens is a Kiwi screen taonga. Since joining Koha as a reporter in 1984, he has brought many Māori stories to television, and worked on everything from Marae to Māori Television's version of It's in the Bag. Among the notable documentaries he has directed are Māori Battalion doco March to Victory and award-winning show The New Zealand Wars. He was a producer on Vincent Ward film Rain of the Children.
Some jobs never make the headlines; in the screen industry, one of those unsung positions is the production manager. After seven years on film sets in Asia, Brian Walden returned home in the mid 70s to production manage the shoots of many classic TV dramas, from Hunter’s Gold to Hanlon. In 1985 he went freelance, keeping a firm hand on shoots involving horses, hospital porters, vampires and underwater aeroplanes.
As manager of the National Film Unit, David Henry Fowler oversaw the organisation's move from Miramar to Lower Hutt. In 35 years of filmmaking he worked in both government and private sectors: writing, directing, and producing memorable films ranging from commercials to features. After his career at the top was cut short by ill-health, he continued to pass on his knowledge and experience in advisory roles. Image credit: Archives New Zealand, ref AAQT 6421 B57