International Symposium of Māori and Indigenous Screen Production

Posted Tuesday 14 Dec 2010

WIFT's Executive Director Susi Newborn attended the recent Symposium in memory of Merata Mita. Here she re-caps for those WIFT members who couldn't make it.

"A hui, like an army, moves on its stomach, so we will be keeping a strict eye on the time." announced Ella Henry, organiser of the International Symposium on Māori and Indigenous Screen Production, as I walked into the whare niu of Nga Wai o Horotiu at Te Ara Poutama (AUT). What? Time keeping? On a marae? Can't be right! But when I saw the programme bursting with panels, presentations and screenings, I realised she really needed to march us through them like a sergeant major.  And what a fantastic job Ella and her team did.  Months and months of organising, and here we were, in the whare with our indigenous cousins Cree, Koori, Inuit,  Abenaki  - all gathering in the memory of our wahine toa, Merata Mita.

I listened intently to Alanis Obomsawin - Merata considered her the best documentarian in the world - Patricia Grace, Briar Grace-Smith, Dr Romaine Moreton speak of writing and telling indigenous stories. Brought up on books by "dead white men in faraway countries" they said the time had come for the indigenous voice to colonise both the novel and the screen.

In the panel discussion about nurturing tangata whenua film and television, the idea of a Māori distribution company was mooted to provide the missing link and to encourage iwi participation.  As 75% of expertise in Māori film is in Auckland, this would allow for valuable new partnerships to foster and grow the industry outside the main urban centres.  There seems to be some industry confusion, according to NZ on Air research, on the distinction between TV and cinema when it comes to the Māori cultural perspective: pakeha needing to see the Maori pov and Maori film-makers needing to be less purist.

The day continued with further panel discussions and screenings of films.  I was particularly moved by one in Te Reo - Taku Rakau by Kararaina Rangihau and Winter Boy by Rachel House and Hineani Melbourne. We were also privileged to be shown a rough excerpt from Merata's documentary Saving Grace. There wasn't a dry eye in the whare.

I didn't attend the second day of the Symposium, but if it was anything like the first, we have much to be proud of here in Aotearoa when it comes to Māori screen production, with films like Boy breaking the NZ box office and the tremendous legacy Merata has left.  Our indigenous cousins look up to us for guidance and inspiration. Their challenges are even greater. But we need to aim higher, find new story tellers, create new 'screens', ones with 'resonance' where the audience can have a sense of ownership.  Film is about educating and entertaining, but above all it is about preserving culture.