Once Were Warriors opened the eyes of cinemagoers around the globe to an unexamined aspect of modern New Zealand life. Director Lee Tamahori's hard-hitting depiction of domestic and gang violence amongst an urban Māori whānau was adapted from the best-selling Alan Duff novel. The film provided career-defining roles for Temuera Morrison and Rena Owen as Jake the Muss and Beth Heke. It remains NZ's most watched local release in terms of bums on seats. Among a trio of backgrounders, Riwia Brown writes about adapting Duff's book for the screen.
Mātai Smith began his screen career reporting on Marae. He was a long-running host of pioneering te reo children's show Pūkana and later co-hosted breakfast TV staple Good Morning (where he introduced te reo, and was hypnotised). Smith fronted popular Māori TV talent quest Homai Te Pakipaki, winning Best Presenter at the 2012 NZ TV Awards. He is currently Native Affairs’ Australian correspondent.
Toby Mills began as an actor (eg. short films Mananui and The Find). After managing theatre company Te Rakau Hua o te Wa o Tapu, he took up directing, and in 2000 was awarded for series Nga Morehu, which profiled Māori elders. Mills works often with his partner Moana Maniapoto; together they have won awards for docos on Syd Jackson and carver Pakaariki Harrison. Mills also helmed te reo short Te Po Uriuri.
Lee Tamahori worked his way up the filmmaking ranks, before debuting as a feature director with 1994's Once Were Warriors. The portrait of a violent marriage became the most successful film in Kiwi history, and won international acclaim. Between Warriors and 2016's Mahana, Tamahori has worked mainly overseas, where he has directed everything from The Sopranos to 007 blockbuster Die Another Day.
Globetrotting New Zealander Len Lye was a gifted innovator in many areas of the arts — film, painting, sculpture, photography, and writing. Inventing ways to make films without a camera, he became one of the pioneers of the genre later known as the music video. Later he moved to New York's Greenwich Village and became a leading figure in the kinetic art movements of the 1950s and 60s.
Ernie Leonard spent time as a soldier, a railways clerk and public relations officer. His first television job was as an actor on Pukemanu, and he became a household name co-presenting wrestling show On the Mat. In 1986 Leonard became the first head of TVNZ's Māori Programmes Department. When he retired, a search of the TVNZ Archives database yielded 38,000 references to him or programmes he'd been associated with.