Why the film 'Whina' needed two directors

Posted Tuesday 15 Feb 2022

Why the film 'Whina' needed two directors

We're looking forward to seeing the work of Paula Whetu Jones(Te Aitanga a Mahaki, Whakatōhea, Ngāti Porou) one of the directors on this much-anticipated film, due for release in New Zealand on 23 June. The producers Tainui Stephens and Matthew Metcalfe enlisted the skills of Whetu Jones and James Napier Robertson as directors for Whina.

“To direct the film was going to be such a huge undertaking,” Stephens said in a media release. “Different films require different ways of working. Matthew and I had no problem moving away from the individualistic angle that an auteur brings to film, in favour of a collaborative approach of two directors working in concert, working as partners.”

Metcalfe added, “James had directed The Dark Horse, an amazing film, also about a real-life figure, and Paula had a history of directing drama and documentary, and was one of the directors on the highly acclaimed anthology film, Waru. From the very beginning, they operated as one individual unit, to bring Whina’s story to the screen.”

As directors Whetu Jones and Napier Robertson spent time with Dame Whina’s family, they listened, watched and learned more about Whina as a beloved mother and wife. They both felt it was important to depict the events of Whina’s life that added up to the person she became, and not to portray her as a saint but as a human being. They fully embraced the complexities of her character that emerged. “She had flaws, and we weren't afraid to address them,” noted Whetu Jones, “but we wanted to address them in a way that would allow the audience to feel compassion for the choices that she had to make.”

Whina tells the inspirational story of Dame Whina Cooper, New Zealand’s Te Whaea o Te Motu (The Mother of the Nation), her tumultuous life journey and unshakeable inner strength that led her to become one of Aotearoa New Zealand’s most remarkable leaders. Whina’s life’s purpose for racial equality and land rights culminated in leading a sacred hīkoi (march) over six hundred kilometres, from the top of New Zealand to the national parliament in Wellington, to unite Māori pride and Pākehā honour. 

The film stars Rena Owen (Ngāpuhi) as the elderly Whina and Miriama McDowell (Ngāti Hine, Ngāpuhi) as the younger Whina. Tioreore Ngātai-Melbourne portrays Whina as a teenager.

Watch the trailer