Four short films screened on the second night of Whiti Whitiāhua Wāhine, the Matariki Maori women’s film festival, each very different from the other. But first, university instructor and filmmaker, Ella Henry, talks about this first ever Maori women’s film festival!
The first film to screen was Kararaina Rangihau’s Taku Rakāu e, a narrative short that tells the story of a young girl who wants to know the meaning behind a waiata she is taught to sing. (A waiata is a Maori song which preserves the wisdom and knowledge of ancestors.) Her grandmother sits with her and tells her the story. As Kararaina explains in the video below, the waiata was “written” (the Maori have an oral tradition) in the mid-1800’s by a woman named Mihikitekapua. Kararaina pointed out that although the song is about a man, she as a filmmaker told the story of Mihikitekapua instead! She has flipped the story a bit on its head to bring the woman’s story to the fore, and it resonated very well with the audience. One woman in the audience stood up after the screening and talked about how she learned to sing this waiata as a child and how amazing it was to see the story of Mihikitekapua told.
Kararaina spoke about growing up and learning this waiata (and forgive me, but she used a lot of Maori language in her introduction, so I don’t entirely understand or know exactly what she said), and how her passion for the meaning of the waiata grew over the years. The historical and cultural significance of it was important to her. The famous late filmmaker, Merata Mita, produced Taku Rakau e but passed away during the process of making it. About the film, Kararaina said that it took awhile to make and that “it should never take two years to write a short film,” but that “Merata Mita [my mentor] showed me how. It wasn’t a straight road.” She went on to say “I’ve learned a lot about myself and who I am.” Kararaina dedicated her film to the memory of Mihikitekapua and included a dedication to Merata Mita in the end credits.
Kararaina’s interest is in telling stories in Maori and helping to foster the life of the Maori language. (She will be taking her film to the National Geographic All Roads Project this September in Washington, DC, USA.) It was a major education chatting with her and filmmaker Ella Henry this morning on the ferry, and I really appreciate them letting me ask them so many questions off camera! Watch a video of Kararaina Rangihau below talking about her work and later in the post, Ella Henry talking about Merata Mita.
The second film to screen was Katie Wolfe’s This is Her, a comedy with some dark undertones of resentment, bitterness and revenge! (Wolfe couldn’t make it to the festival, unfortunately.) The film starts off with a woman in sexual ecstasy, then moves on to show her in labor in the hospital. The story revolves around her recalling giving birth to her child (with husband at her side) while she also narrates the story of how their relationship fell apart after he met a much younger woman. The woman is shown as a child and the narration goes: “This is the bitch” (who will grow up and take her husband away). Funny and bitter, much like life!
The third film to screen was The Winter Boy, directed by Rachel House who introduced the film. Again, she is another filmmaker at this festival who has worked with Merata Mita. She talked about how she lost her editor during the film and decided to recut the picture. She talked to Mita about it, and Mita said to do it how she wanted it to be and to “stand by your work.” At the end of the introduction, Rachel said, “So here I am, standing by my work.” It’s an interesting film which seems to direct you down a path that is totally different from the path the film ends up taking. I was surprised by the film as its tone is one of panic as a mother loses her son at an aquarium, but moves into one that is a bit mysterious, then at the end, one that’s funny and joyous. It’s an interesting dramatic arc with some questions left unanswered. To a question asked by an audience member, Rachel said that she liked that there were some unanswered things in the film. (By the way, if you don’t know Rachel House by name, you may know her by her films, including Eagle vs. Shark — a classic, and one of my favorites ever — and Boy, both successful New Zealand films which have also seen a lot of success outside of New Zealand.)
And finally, the fourth film to screen was Ebony Society. While it’s directed by a male director, Tammy Davis (also an actor on the successful Kiwi series “Outrageous Fortune”), it is produced by Ainsley Gardiner. And if you don’t know who she is, she produced Eagle vs. Shark, Boy and other films. Gardiner co-owns Whenua Films which she co-founded several years ago with actor Cliff Curtis, whom you have seen in tons of movies. (She’s someone whose work I try to follow and someone I look up to much like I do Nira Park in the U.K. who’s produced some of the best comedy to come out of England in the past 15 years.) This is a lovely film about two teenage (or early 20’s?) boys who break into a house around Christmas time. They find that there is a baby and a very young boy left alone at night in the house. While they meant to rob the place, they find they can’t leave these kids by themselves and decide to stay and watch them while their parents are out. It has a good heart and some funny lines, an interesting and sweet story.
Unfortunately and disappointingly, I became ill during the festival and missed the third night of screenings. Ella Henry screened her Ph.D. thesis film called Wairua Auaha (meaning something akin to “creative spirit” as she explained to me), which is about “emancipatory Maori entrepreneurship in screen production.” Sounds great, and I’ll be watching it soon! Also, two episodes of the series “Songs from the Inside” screened. This is a successful Maori Television series which follows four Kiwi musicians as they teach songwriting to prison inmates. (I wish I could’ve been there!)