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.