Sitting out on a cool evening on a headland high above Auckland’s Waitemata Harbour, it is difficult to understand how recent the country’s unpalatable history really is. And the past injustices, combined with the emergence of the New Zealand movie industry onto the world stage at the tail end of the 1990s, means that indigenous and women’s voices in the film industry feel new and urgent.
The uprising against the 1970s handover of Takaparawha, or Bastion Point, from the army to the Auckland City Council — and not to the local iwi (tribe) who lost their land in the 1850s — culminated in an occupation of the site that lasted for nearly a year and a half. The siege came to an end, barely 40 years ago, in 1978 with forced evictions and mass arrests, noted in documentary film “Bastion Point Day 507.”
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Barely a decade later, however, Takaparawha had been returned and compensation paid as part of a wider settlement that recognized and partially undid some of the injustices that dated back to the 19th century’s unfair treaty agreements between European settlers and Maori.
That paved the way for Merata Mita to make the first Maori film, “Mauri,” in 1988. And it allowed the building of Orakei Marae, an airy place of worship and a community center, which today is somewhat dog-eared.
The New Zealand Film Commission operates the He Ara Development Fund, which supports established filmmakers to tell Maori and Pacific Island stories on screen. It has made a commitment to diversity with a pledge on gender equality across development and talent programs. A snapshot of New Zealand’s most compelling new voices:
An actor, producer and director, who is attached to the sequel of his blockbuster “Thor:Ragnarok,” “Thor: Love and Thunder” and some episodes of Disney’s “Star Wars” spinoff “The Mandalorian,” Waititi’s “Jojo Rabbit” is earning Oscar talk and he has become an emblem of how far it is possible for Maori to go.
Jackie van Beek
Actor, writer and director van Beek has appeared in two of Waititi’s films, “Eagle vs. Shark” and “What We Do in the Shadows,” but hit the big time with comedy series “The Breaker Upperers.” She co-starred and co-directed that series with Madeleine Sami and is now directing some episodes of the U.S. series adaptation of “Shadows” for FX.
From appearing in six episodes of “Top of the Lake” to directing two seasons of the sketch comedy show “Funny Girls” as well as co-writing and starring in in two seasons of New Zealand comedy “Super City,” Sami has already done plenty. she co-starred, wrote and co-directed “The Breaker Upperers” and hosts TVNZ’s hit “Great Kiwi Bake Off.”
The 19-year-old actor made her name in 2018 “Leave No Trace,” and this year she stars in three films that found themselves at the Toronto Film Festival: Justin Kurzel’s “The True History of the Kelly Gang”; David Michod’s “The King”; and Taika Waititi’s “Jojo Rabbit,” in which she has one of the lead roles.
Actor-turned-director and producer Hern heads production company Four Knights Film with James Napier Robertson, Sasha Wood and Alexander Borgers, and enjoyed success as producer on Robertson’s “The Dark Horse.” Additional credits came with Daniel Radcliffe-starring “Guns Akimbo” and as associate producer on “The Meg.” Currently in post on “Shadow in the Cloud.”
With last year’s documentary tour de force, “Merata: How Mum Decolonised the Screen,” Mita dug up unseen footage of and about his mother, the pioneering filmmaker Merata Mita. It details how her filmmaking intersected with the lives of her children and indigenous filmmakers overseas. Mita is now among those fanning the flames of Maori filmmaking.