Tag Archive for: indigenous

View from the Top banner

I was fortunate to attend the Māoriland Film Festival on its 10th anniversary yesterday.

There were around 200 of us there for the powhiri, including indigenous filmmakers from New Zealand, Australia, Canada, Hawaii and the Pacific Islands, a solid turnout of staff from NZFC, reps from the immagiNATIVE Film Festival in Toronto, and someone from Diversity & Inclusion from the European Film Market at the Berlin International Film Festival. We all got a chance, both formally and informally, to share about ourselves, our organisations, and our thoughts about film.

Film festivals, first and foremost, though, are always a celebration of film. The excitement of the film makers to have their films on screen at a recognised film fest—and Māoriland certainly is one in the indigenous film world—was palpable.

Māoriland had humble beginnings, but in its ten years, it has grown to become a significant event on the New Zealand film calendar. There’s a special wairua that permeates the fest, which sets it apart from any other film fests I’ve been to, including those of Berlin and Cannes, and even immagiNATIVE in Toronto. It’s very inclusive, there are a lot of youth involved, and it lacks the hard business edge so common at others, which in this case is a good thing. And, of course, it’s driven by Te Ao Māori, Te Reo, and Tikanga, which makes it so very special to us.

I was fortunate to run into two filmmakers from Hawaii who I had met previously when I was asked to speak at the University of Hawaii by a film lecturer there about a short I had produced that had gotten into the Hawaii International Film Festival. They have come a long way with their work, and it was good to both reminisce and learn what the other had been up to in the ensuing years—networking and connections are another big plus to come out of such events.

But it’s the films everyone is ultimately there for, and the opening night film and its filmmaker, Etienne Aurelius, reminded us all of the power of the indigenous filmmaking voice.

Aurelius’ film Ka Pō is a raw film that overcomes its limitations by exhibiting elements that make the indigenous perspective unique, with spectacularly cinematic locations, framing, and metaphor. Aurelius said that he shot it with a crew of five, with the majority of cast non-actors, and with the production spread out across a long production period interrupted by the COVID pandemic. Māori producer Chelsea Winstanley helped him craft it into the distinctive debut feature that it is.

Here in New Zealand, we know that films with Māori stories, content, and characters set us apart and help to make these films often critically and commercially successful, as exhibited most recently by Paula Whetu Jones and James Napier Robertson’s Whina and Tearepa Kahi’s Muru. Australia has just as much success with their first nations films, the likes of Warwick Thornton’s Sweet Country and Leah Purcell’s The Drover’s Wife: The Legend of Molly Johnson.

The success of New Zealand and Australian indigenous filmmakers provide a shining light to those from other countries around the globe, which Aurelius paid tribute to in the Q & A following the showing of his film. But indigenous filmmakers from elsewhere are now making their own marks with their own films, and this is fantastic to see. I look forward in the future to seeing a film from Aurelius that has a decent budget, as I’m confident this Hawaiian filmmaker from Kauai is someone we’ll be hearing a lot more from.


Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director

From member Mīria George, one of this year’s participants in the Emerging Women Filmmakers Incubator, comes Big Hair, Don’t Care, a documentary web series. Its three episodes will be free to stream on Moana Nui, a specialist Indigenous-led digital theatre built by Shift72. The first episode premieres tonight.

Big Hair, Don’t Care contributes to documenting the creative work of women across the stage and screen landscape. It features multiple award-winning stage and screen artists: Riwia Brown (Ngāti Porou, Taranaki Whānui), DEGANZ member Dianna Fuemana (Mutalau, Niue; Pago Pago, American Samoa), Sarita Keo Kossamak So (Khmer, Aotearoa) and Moana Ete (Ngāti Wheke, Ngāti Whatua Ōrakei & Lalomalava, Savai’i, Sāmoa).

It is created and directed by Mīria George (Ngāti Kearoa, Ngāti Tuarā, Te Arawa; Te Tawera, Ngāti Awa; Tumutevarovaro; Enuamanu; Kūki ‘Āirani). Wellington-based editors Timon Zeiss and Erin Murphy cut the series, which was filmed in Te Whanganui-a-Tara Wellington in February 2020.

What began as a performance installation presented first in Hilo, Hawai’i, and then later in Te Whanganui-a-Tara, Aotearoa, in 2017, soon evolved away from the live – and in the digital. The series looks to share kōrero of equity and visibility for wāhine Māori, va’ine Pasifika and wāhine tauiwi while addressing systemic issues throughout the stage and screen industry.

Enjoy Big Hair, Don’t Care for free on Moana Nui until 22 January 2023.

DEGNZ member Christopher Walker’s Spears From All Sides will be screening for three weeks (August 30 – September 19) at the City Gallery in Wellington, as part of the film programme accompanying Brett Graham’s exhibition, Tai Moana Tai Tangata—a cautionary tale about human endeavour in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Filmed over three years, the feature-length documentary follows Opi, a young and charismatic Waorani activist, as he tells the dramatic story of a vehement, community based resistance by tribal communities in Ecuador, one of the most remote and beautiful areas in the world.

Released in 2019, Spears From All Sides has played across the globe, winning multiple festival awards including Best Documentary at the New Earth International Film Festival and the Spirit of Activism Award, at the Colorado Environmental Film Festival.

The documentary is also available to rent on beamafilm.

If you are in Wellington, head along to Tai Moana Tai Tangata at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery.

As part of the Wairoa Māori Film Festival, DEGNZ Incubator alumna Hiona Henare spoke with Tia Taurere-Clearsky (DEGNZ) about her work as a prized Māori film editor, camera operator and international field journalist.

Now living in the Coast Salish Territory in British Columbia, Canada, Tia spoke about the lack of Indigenous editors in the film industry, both male and female, and how she is involved in two programmes as a mentor to hopefully change this by encouraging up and coming Indigenous editors.

Even though she is far away from home, Tia shared how thankful she is to live in a community filled with Indigenous people and how beneficial it is for both herself and her children, that even though being away from Aotearoa can be lonely, being a part of an Indigenous community makes it easier.

Watch the kōrero here:




The New Zealand Film Commission (NZFC) took an official delegation to China and Taiwan in June of this year, and I was fortunate to be invited along to Taipei for the Taiwan leg as the ED of DEGNZ.

There was a strong indigenous focus to the visit with the New Zealand Commercial Investment Office (our government’s official representation there) and the NZFC organising a Matariki Festival with a number of events for the Taiwanese Film Industry, and public screenings of some New Zealand films.

On show were Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Born to Dance, and My Wedding and Other Secrets, with director Tammy Davis and DEGNZ board member and director Roseanne Liang along to introduce and do Q & A’s for their films. Also attending were writer and director Michael Bennett, representing Ngā Aho Whakaari, and playwright and screenwriter Briar Grace-Smith.

Taiwan has 11 officially recognised indigenous tribes and there is a very strong link between the Taiwanese indigenous peoples and Māori, with everyone acknowledging whakapapa through our DNA connections. This connection has received official acknowledgement with the New Zealand Commerce and Industry Office in Taipei and the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in New Zealand signing a document entitled “Arrangement on Cooperation on Indigenous Issues”. This will establish cultural and “people-to-people” connections between Taiwan’s indigenous peoples and New Zealand Māori in order to promote mutual understanding and friendly relations.

This was my second visit to Taiwan, following my time there in October of last year to attend the Asian Producers Network conference. I was once again struck by the friendliness of the people, particularly the strong and positive response by the indigenous locals to anything and anyone Māori. There was even a Māori cultural group made up of ex-pats out of Hong Kong to give the various events some distinctive Aotearoa New Zealand flavour.

As part of the effort to develop bonds between Taiwan and New Zealand, the NZFC and the Taipei Film Commission announced a Professional Sreenwriters Exchange. Under the exchange one professional screenwriter from Taiwan will travel to New Zealand and one professional screenwriter from New Zealand will travel to Taiwan for at least a month, in order to strengthen cultural ties and promote greater cooperation between the film industries on both sides.

The exchange is intended to occur on an annual basis and is aimed at applicants who have experience writing a minimum of one feature film script that has been produced as a feature-length film. They also need to have either direct personal experience or a strong interest in Māori culture and/or the Indigenous Peoples of Taiwan.

I lived in Japan for a long time and have visited China a couple of times and many Southeast Asian countries repeatedly. Of them all, I feel that Taiwan is at the moment perhaps the most proactively open to doing coproductions with New Zealand. While the budgets there aren’t big with US$1 million being the average film budget and an almost purely commercial focus on box office, Taiwan I think offers great opportunity for filmmakers who want to work with Asian partners … with the right story.

On our delegation were some producers who are already engaged with Taiwan on projects, looking to leverage off a Taiwan-NZ connection, or working with Taiwan to access Mainland China.

Official activity aside, Taipei has great architecture, galleries and museums, outdoor activities and fabulous food. And wouldn’t you know it, after delegates found various ways to wing their way there via stopovers in Singapore, Hong Kong or Brisbane, Air New Zealand opened up direct flights to Taiwan after our visit.

I guess you can’t have it all.

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director