Maoriland Film Festival

NZTECHO Autumn 2017 Wide Angle Issue 72

IMG_0791Raukawa Marae. Photo: Waka Attewell

Our wandering philosopher farmer and cinematographer Waka Attewell writes from Ōtaki. Home of the fabulous 4th annual Maoriland Film Festival.

In the early 1920s, Australian company Federated Feature Films proposed a New Zealand branch to produce feature films.

Otaki was suggested as a suitable place to establish a studio and the New Zealand Moving Picture Company was established.

At the end of films produced in Otaki was the text plate: “The home of Maoriland Films and the Los Angelos [sic] of New Zealand’s moving picture industry.”

However, the plan for Otaki to be the next Hollywood never quite panned out, and after six films Maoriland Films disappeared.

The word “Maoriland” was the name New Zealand was popularly known by from the 1880s to the beginning of World War I.

Nearly 100 years later, the name has been restored.

The aim of the Maoriland Film Festival is to use a native lens and iwi screens to bring the world’s best cinema stories, usually only seen at international film festivals, to Otaki and provide an opportunity to showcase homegrown talent.

Maoriland was modelled on Sundance, which was started 23 years ago by Robert Redford in a town the same size as Otaki.


What is an indigenous film festival? The quick answer might be the other point of view – the slow thinking version might go something like: to maintain our values and moral standing as a nation; to protect our language and be allowed to live where we want and not have our land stolen or developed without our knowledge or participation; and be able to feed and clothe our children whilst living within a colonial world of ‘Us vs Them’; to live harmoniously in a society dominated by another repressive culture… and I’m not talking about New Zealand here (though I could be.) I’m referring to Greenland.

There was a moment that happened during a conference in Hawaii when Māori film director Barry Barclay took a delegation of indigenous folk as support up on stage with him… the Indigenous people were white skinned and from Wales. Yep, I did the same double take as many of us white privileged do when told that story. Is this simply due to our isolation and lack of recent history taught in our schools or perhaps we lack a certain worldliness?

Did you know that Denmark had governmental control (in an annex sort of way) over Greenland? I didn’t either until I watched the film ‘SUME: The sound of a revolution’ at a Maoriland Film Festival.

The rock group SUME was formed in a Danish university, its members were both Greenlandic and Danish. The young folk go to Denmark for their education. The group toured Greenland over 30 years ago and it seems their songs and music moved a nation. The Danish government eventual handed Greenland back their self-determination, and the Greenlandic people of that generation attribute the touring of that musical group with contributing to this hard-fought decision. All the Greenlandic folk have the LP, they know all the songs. SUME were a modern rock group, their songs were protest songs.

IMG_0789Raukawa Marae. Photo: Waka Attewell

I now know that Greenland is a self-governing overseas administrative division of Denmark since 1979.

The Maoriland Film Festival is where the ‘Us vs Them’ is mostly turned on its head. It’s like spending 5 days in a Barry Barclay [RIP] (Ngati, Feathers of Peace, Te Rua) conversation, where he once again explains the term ‘the camera on the shore’ and why he gave our world 4th Cinema.

Part of me is still searching for the enlightening moment that comes when you explore the unknown, a journey that started with the Maoritanga TV series in the early ‘70’s, when I realised that I lived in a country that might possibly be made from two peoples that were, in fact, refugees. Māori refugees in their own land… and, though the people who were my ancestors had little choice in their journey to this land, it is still a story of invasion, oppression and disassociation not unique to NZ.

Come and sit with us in Ōtaki and contemplate why you might put the camera on the shore?

This is Year Four of the festival’s existence, and the 2600 films submitted have been culled down to the 121 best. Phew – good luck with getting around them all, eh? But, heck, I’m going to give it a go. Maoriland is already part of a worldwide circuit of festivals, conference and competition, modelled on the Sundance Festival, which started 23 years ago in a small town about the size of Ōtaki.

Ōtaki – a town of three parts, beach, village, state-highway, and, beyond that, the racecourse.

A couple of things struck me when I moved to Ōtaki 20 or so years ago. The first was how close the main road to the beach shot by the meeting house in the village. When and how did that happen?

Was it a colonial thing or just a practical thing that has evolved over the last 150 years? And the next thing was never stay in the pub after the third jug gets bought; it’s a small town in the New Zealand rural sector and that racial stuff about Māori lies just beneath thin skin.    It usually starts with a slight against someone from the Wananga getting a   ‘f–king taxpayer handout’ (the Māori University is within staggering distance of the pub, some folk who live in Ōtaki still have to ask what all those buildings are) The town is mostly surrounded by the dairy farming industry and there are some who still don’t know there is a film festival — and this is four years later — but, meanwhile down at the supermarket, you might just as well catch a buzz of excitement when you overhear a group discussing this year’s programme and the favourites of the year before.

MaorilandOtaki main street. Photo: Waka Attewell

Slow thinking, environmental thinking, justice, colonialism… the indigenous ways of our planet… aroha, small town NZ. This is Maoriland. Global thinking.

I have Scottish ancestors (I really should make that film one day) and I am inspired by this festival. My ancestors were cleansed from the island of South Uist, the English government of the day having ruled that their land was more important as pasture for the wealthy landed-gentry than as a tribal people’s homeland. They deemed (as an act of law) that the tribal way of life was somewhat unsophisticated and, so therefore, worthy of taking.

History, ah, we love history – ‘it’s just one frigging thing after another.’ This is our history and our world, and this is who we are.