Between Two Worlds: Nga Whanaunga Maori Pasifika Shorts

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Nga Whanaunga curator LEO KOZIOL (Ngati Rakaipaaka, Ngati Kahungunu) offers thematic notes on this year’s Maori Pasifika short film harvest at the New Zealand International Film Festival.

If there is an overarching theme to the Nga Whanaunga short film selection for 2013, it is the struggle of existing between two worlds. In Renae Maihi’s Butterfly, a new mother must talk to the new baby still in her puku, reconciling through waiata her former teenage life of angst and tough choices. In Tamati Ihaka’s Maumahara, Marama must literally transport herself to another time and place to remember what is important for her as a Maori woman in this modern world—full of distraction and danger. In Lauren Jackson’s I’m Going to Mum’s, Jacob is split between two worlds—Mum’s and Dad’s—the light of frustration shining in the young boy’s eyes as he is bounced back and forth like a ping pong.

It is intriguing that in what seems to be such divisive times— rich, poor; Maori, Pakeha; young, old; rural, urban; divorced, married—that our new emerging filmmakers are able to explore and reconcile such important social dimensions of modern life.

In One Arm Bandit, Michael Reihana manages to metaphysically manifest magical metaphors for the twin scourges of our whanau ora—gambling, and drugs. Like his previous works Little Gold Cowboy and Pleasant, this third film in his short film trilogy is a one of a kind. One Arm Bandit is a psychedelic visual trip set in a small rural Kawhia pub. Lead cast member Pete Smith shines as the town publican, as the One Armed Bandit pokie machine becomes a Mexican bandit with one arm duking it out “OK Corral” style with a lynch mob of anti-gambling riled up locals. Michael’s first short travelled to the Venice International Film Festival back in 2002, so it has been a long wait for this one but well worth it.

Tamati Ihaka’s Maumahara evocates a similar atmosphere of avant garde surrealism. A random man sweeping the floor becomes the shadowy figure of Takatu (Everisingsun Ratu Hiku). Takatu is the shadow figure of Marama (Kahurangi Carter), an expressive “Id” dragging her into the depths of darkness and the world of Te Po. She must find her “Super Ego” if she is to overcome his treachery and tricksterism, and then follow a new path on her return to the world of light/Te Ao. Tamati Ihaka says this short film is inspired by a dream that Tamati’s partner Marama Flavell had one night in 2010, making the film a dream within a dream inspired by a dream. Awesomeness.

Joining these two Maori filmmakers in the realm of fantasy is Samoan/Torres Strait Island film maker S.F. Tusa. In the delightful Blackbuster, Tusa imagines a world where the boy gets the girl, and he also gets to act out every Hollywood fantasy musical myth his young mind can conjure. “It’s not Blockbuster, it’s Blackbuster,” screams the Hollywood-style poster of this independent short film, and at today’s screening we are in “Polywood” not “Hollywood”—much like the One Armed Bandit poster that makes a stylish homage to the world of ’70s exploitation flicks (see below).

Somewhere between the unapologetic weirdness of One Armed Bandit and Blackbuster and the more serious tones of Wide Eyed and Butterfly sit the lighter shades of I’m Going to Mum’s and Dog on Duty. That’s not to say that each of these comedic films do not have their serious side.

In Lauren Jackson’s film, the young boy does not want his parents to be apart, and each extra layer of clothes becomes a literal metaphor to the baggage he has to carry around because of his parent’s selfishness and urban self-obsession. Lennie Hill’s Dog on Duty comes across as an experimental antipodean Aotearoa short film version of The Artist. Alas, there was no Oscar for Uggie the dog in Michel Havanicius’s silent epic, but surely Charlie the dog deserves such an accolade for his role in soothing the temper of Rob Mokaraka’s car thief character?

Which brings us to Wide Eyed and Butterfly. Both Catherine Bisley[1] and Renae Maihi delve into the deeply serious world of teen angst. Jade (Brooklyn Double) in Wide Eyed escapes into music to get away from the pain of the present. Jade’s predicament is rural isolation and an inattentive mother. Kiri (Jahna Batt) in Butterfly has a similarly inattentive mother (also distracted by a new lover) but where Jade has no one to turn to Kiri has Whaea (Aroha Hathaway) to talk to and the world of poi, kapa haka and waiata to share with the little purerehua (butterfly) inside.

Looking at the current crop of fresh Maori and Pasifika films in this year’s Nga Whanaunga programme, one can be reassured that new voices are emerging and our stories are being told. If we are between two worlds, it is one where Maori and Pasifika voices are pigeon holed to one with a great diversity of voices and visions. Our filmmakers have something to say, and truly original ways of saying it. Long may this continue.

This year, Leo Koziol, Festival Director of the Wairoa Maori Film Festival, has curated the Nga Whanaunga Maori Pasifika Shorts programme for the New Zealand International Film Festival.
The screenings are: Auckland, 12.15 pm Sunday July 21, SkyCity Cinema + 12.30 pm Monday July 22, SkyCity Cinema; Wellington , 3.30 pm Saturday August 10, Soundings/Te Papa; Christchurch, 1.15 pm Sunday August 18th, Northlands 3.
The New Zealand International Film Festival 2013 opens in Auckland on July 18, Wellington on July 26, Christchurch on August 1, Dunedin on August 8, and tours the remainder of the country thereafter. For regional dates, programme details, and screening times, visit
The Lumière Reader reports from the New Zealand International Film Festival every winter. For additional commentary and opinion, follow us on Twitter.

[1] Full disclosure: Catherine Bisley is a long-time contributor to The Lumière Reader.