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Mt. Zion: Behind the Scenes

Mt. Zion: Behind the Scenes


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I say fly away home to Zion, fly away home. One bright morning when my work is over, man will fly away home. -  Rastaman Chant, Bob Marley

Turei (Stan Walker) is a young man with a big dream. He loves music and wants to be a singer with a band, just like his idol, Bob Marley – The Lion.  He’s got his band, Small Axe (named after Marley’s revolutionary song) and he can see his opportunity: the auditions for the supporting act at Bob Marley’s Western Springs concert.

But: it’s 1979 and he lives in Pukekohe, working in the potato fields with his whanau. How can he secure his dream?

When they can get time off from picking potatoes, Turei hangs out with the band – his brother Hone (Troy Kingi), a superb guitarist, and best mates Reggie (David Wikaira- Paul) on bass guitar, and drummer Pou (Darcey-Ray Flavell-Hudson).

Turei convinces the band to play at the open mic night at the local pub, the Vinyl Shrine. Pub manager Layla (Miriama Smith) spots their rough natural talent led by Turei’s superb singing voice, and encourages Turei to chase the audition.

Turei has to convince the band, particularly Hone – soon to be a father and needing the security of the potato farm work – that his dream is worth going for. His father (Temuera Morrison) settled long ago for responsibility and hard work as the way to raise his family. Papa sees Turei’s passion and talent, but doesn’t see it amounting to anything concrete, especially when there’s the extra pressure of doing night shifts to get the potatoes in and hold onto the contract.

Meanwhile, Turei’s Mama (Ngawai Herewini) is organizing a big hui at the marae to talk to the Mayor about the whanau’s land issues. She wants the boys to be there and for Turei to present the wero to the visitors. But the date clashes with the audition.

A desperate Turei navigates his dream through these competing duties in ways which end up damaging the reputation of his whole family. He doesn’t stop to weigh up the balance between individual ambition and the good of the group. Until it’s too late. But an unlikely defender steps up and he is offered a chance to make amends.

Producer Quinton Hita describes the film as a drama with musical elements. “It’s set in 1979 and it’s about a young man, Turei, who has aspirations beyond the spud fields and he and his band enter a competition to become the opening act for the Bob Marley concert that was on at Western Springs that year. It’s their journey in that competition as well as Turei’s personal journey and the decisions he makes in balancing his own personal dreams and his obligations to his family.

“It’s a coming of age story and a family drama. It contains a lot of family values, which is something that appealed to me because they are values that I hold personally and are relevant now.

“The concept of the film is Tearepa Kahi’s. He came up with the idea, he wrote many drafts of the script over the years, and he directed the film. He also composed the majority of the music and lyrics. It’s great to be working with someone who is a real talent – a genuine writer/director.”

Writer/director Tearepa Kahi turned to his own family background for inspiration for the story of Mt Zion. Of Ngati Paoa and Ngati Hine descent, he has iwi affiliations and family history in the potato farming area of Pukekohe, just south of Auckland.

While he grew up in Papanui, Christchurch, where his father moved to follow his own musical aspirations, Kahi spent his holidays at his grandparents’ house in Pukekohe and knows that environment well.

“The heart and soul of the story is Pukekohe itself and generations of spud pickers, generations of whanau working together and looking after each other out in the fields and the market gardens. That’s the life my father had – and my grandmother and grandfather and a lot of my cousins. I didn’t have that life of picking spuds out there on the gardens, but I knew all about it and I knew the stories. I knew what their calloused hands felt like and I understood the people.”

The story of the film is very close to his real family – the father-son relationship is drawn from the reality he knows and experiences:

“This story’s very personal because my father left Pukekohe to pursue music. He’s a drummer – he was the one with the band in the garage. He was the one with the cuzzies being used to form the band. So, it’s an echo of his story and it’s also my story because the father and son theme between Turei and Papa that drives this film is my father’s and my grandfather’s relationship as well as mine and my father’s.”

The other element of the story – Bob Marley’s visit to New Zealand in 1979 – came from a different source. When he was in his early 20s, Kahi was directing a television series at TVNZ.

“One lunchtime I shuffled up the stairs to the archive room and I came across a loose VHS tape and chucked it in the machine and pushed play. It was called ‘Good Morning, Come a Long Way’ by Dylan Taite. It was the story of Bob Marley receiving a powhiri with a full-on wero – the works!

“I’d never seen this footage before and I remember feeling absolutely mesmerised by this moment. The kaiwero coming forward and laying down the wero for Bob Marley, Bob Marley slowly bending down and picking it up. I just thought: What would it be like doing the wero to Bob Marley?”

Kahi describes that as an explosive moment which gave him one element of the story of Mt Zion, which became interlaced with the elements he already knew – “there’s another moment of just understanding who my father was. And I put two and two together.”

The other aspect of this film that is very personal for Kahi is in the character of Turei, played by 2009 Australian Idol winner and pop/soul star Stan Walker.

“Turei is from deep within me. But I don’t think it’s ambition that drives him. I think it’s that he’s asking the question: is this all that there is for us? Is this it? I think that’s what drives him.

“Turei’s not so good in the fields. I think we’re dissimilar in that way, because I could work out in the gardens. I could pick plenty of spuds. I’m a hard worker. Where we’re similar is that we’re both asking the same question: Is this it? Is there more? What else can we do?”

Finding the right person to play Turei seems easy now that we can see Stan Walker doing the role, but when they were casting, Kahi and Hita worked their way through several options.

Hita says, “We were fishing around for potential leads for the film very early in the piece because we identified that it needed somebody with an extraordinary singing talent. Because the audience has to feel that there is something special about this kid that justifies the lengths he goes to to develop his dream. So we knew we had to find a great singer and that’s tricky. Do you go for actors that can sing or singers that can act? And to be honest, I don’t think we were thinking in terms of singers that can act. We were thinking in terms of actors that can sing.

And then Kahi had the brainwave that led to them offering Stan Walker his first acting role: “I saw a clip of Stan singing ‘Purple Rain’. He just has this voice that could fill the whole theatre, a huge auditorium. That voice is one in a million. But was he Pukekohe? Was he Puke enough? I was aware of his background and I knew Turei’s story, so I thought there was a good shot at a personal connection.”

Hita: “Tearepa and I were on the 9th hole at the golf course one afternoon. I was on the tee and just about to hit the ball and Tearepa blurted out ‘Stan Walker!’ It was completely out of the blue and I thought at first it was a tactic to put me off my game. It was a shock at first but then very quickly we looked at each other, thinking ‘that makes a lot of sense’ – somebody with a high profile, who’s popular, who’s Maori and who’s got a singular singing talent.”

Stan Walker says he didn’t know much about Pukekohe – he’s from Tauranga – but the story is similar to his own and he wanted to tell it.

“It’s good to share somebody else’s story. I just love the story. The thing that really drew me to this film was the music aspect and the challenge of becoming a character, even though it might be hard for me. I just love being challenged about doing something bigger than myself.”

As part of his transformation into Turei, Walker had to spend hours in the make-up chair to conceal his 21st Century body art:  “I have tattoos all over my body, but because back in the day they didn’t have flash ta moko, the make-up artists had to cover all my ta moko on my neck, my hands, my chest and my side. So it’s really different looking at myself in the mirror with nothing – which is good because it helps me get into character being Turei rather than being Stan Walker. The ultimate for me is that people will see Turei and not see me.”

Here’s how Walker sees Turei: “He’s full of hope and vision. He’s a young Maori boy who loves singing. He loves his whanau. He’s a spud picker, but he’s more than that – he sees outside the box, he sees outside of Pukekohe, and he wants to pursue more than just spud picking. Ultimately, he wants to have a better life for his whanau. Bob Marley is his hero. Bob Marley is who he wants to be – his idol, his inspiration. He wants to sing and he’s so determined to get to where he wants to be, he’ll do anything. He has a good heart, he’s got good intentions, but his actions are a bit different.”

Kahi and Hita had long felt that they’d like to see Temuera Morrison play a role like Papa – an honest, hard-working man who cares deeply and is committed to the good of his whanau.

Hita: “Temuera was in our minds a long time ago. We’ve always felt that this was a role that we hadn’t seen him in before and also a role that was a nice fit for him. He plays a man who has mana – dignity and some standing in the local community.”

Kahi: “I just couldn’t see anybody else in that role but Temuera Morrison. I was incredibly excited about the prospect of him considering it. I approached him at a place called Pukehina. We had just finished burying my mentor Merata Mita who was a great friend and mentor to Temuera as well. It was time to leave and the last thing I said to him was ‘in six weeks I’m going to send you a script and you have to do this part.’ He said ‘oh, what’s it about?’ I said ‘it’s about spuds.’ And he said ‘oh, is there any more than that?’ So I sent the script to him and we started talking.”

For Morrison this script was of a quality that is seldom found:

“I could see the magic in the script from the start and that’s what attracted me to it. It was just a beautiful opportunity when this script came along and when I talked it through with Tearepa I thought ‘oh this is one I’m really going to relish’.

“The story has the family dynamics and also it has music running through it. It has the drama, the music and being based on one of these families from the hard working class – it’s a special one.”

He also finds the character of Papa to be special at this stage in his career:

“I’ve really found a character that’s not too far away from me, from some of my uncles and especially my grandfather. They were hard working people from a farm. I’m reaching that stage in life where I’m starting to play these more mature roles and in this film of course I’m the Papa. I’m the father and like many families, the father can only see one thing for his son. And that’s hard work along the lines of ‘the more you put in, the more you get out’. Whereas my son Turei sees life beyond the potato field. So we have that dynamic in this film – the father and son thing.”

The casting of Small Axe, Turei’s band of bros, Reggie, Pou and Hone posed the same question as the lead role: actors who can play or musicians who can act? The dilemma was resolved both ways. Reggie and Pou are played by David Wikaira-Paul and Darcey-Ray Flavell-Hudson respectively – both actors who are also musicians. And Hone is played by musician Troy Kingi in his first acting role.

Wikaira-Paul, best known as a teenage Tama in Shortland Street, who has led his own band and won the NZ talent quest ‘So You Wanna Be A Pop Star’, converted to bass guitar for the role.

He says: “A few years back, I was lucky enough to go to Tearepa’s short film called Taua. I was just blown away and ever since then I’ve really wanted to work with T and this was the first opportunity that came up and I was never going to say no.”

Kahi: “The bass is a tricky instrument because it’s the heart and soul of any band – especially of a reggae band. I looked for a long time, but in the end, David was an easy choice. I mean, reggae is in him and he lived in Pukekohe too. The fact that he came from guitar and singing to bass and backing vocals is a testament to how naturally talented he is.”

As the drummer Pou, Darcey-Ray Flavell-Hudson (aka ‘Ghost Chips’ from the popular Land Transport “Legend” TV commercial) has many of the film’s lighter moments, bringing a classic sense of humour.

“Like a lot of young talented Maori, Darcey-Ray Flavell-Hudson is an incredibly talented young drummer”, says Kahi. “And he’s a wonderful actor – very comfortable and real in front of the camera. He was the first person I cast, actually.”

“I’ve been playing drums for 9 years now so that’s good for me to bring into the character of Pou”, says Flavell-Hudson, “My dad is a big fan of Bob Marley so he’s got posters everywhere and he just kept on playing the songs of Bob Marley, so I love him, too. He’s the man.”

The casting of Troy Kingi as Hone, the ace guitarist brother of Turei, was the biggest challenge. Kahi says he relies on his wh?nau for suggestions and in this case it was his cousin, photographer Keir Toto, who had the right idea.

“He piped up early on in the casting and then again later. I should have listened to him the first time, but he came back a second time and said ‘hey, you still need to see Troy’.  An incredibly talented musician, this guy is the real deal – from Whanau-a-Apanui, living up north, good friend of my cousin’s. So I did eventually listen.”

Hita says he hopes this film is the catalyst for Kingi’s music career. “Because he’s not a recorded artist yet, the country hasn’t had the privilege of appreciating his musical ability. He just hasn’t been discovered yet.”

Kingi describes the film’s music as “the beginnings of reggae but it’s not really reggae. It’s quite soulful – it’s got a lot of heart in it. It’s quite a contrast to my music, which is quite dirty blues – really old school crusty. I have written reggae songs, but I enjoy doing the old Howling Wolf, Lightning Hopkins, Sun House sort of style.

“Everyone knows Bob Marley. He was a legend. He was a master of making hooks and making them sound simple but actually they would have been a lot of hard work. I don’t think there’s anyone that’s come since him that can match him in his hookability.”

Miriama Smith plays Layla, the owner of the pub, the Vinyl Shrine, who supports Turei in his efforts to secure the Marley support act audition for Small Axe. Kahi says because Layla is such a strong character, “I knew it needed a really strong actress and Miriama has been at the top of her game for a long time. She’s excellent.”

For Smith, this film was a chance to work in a Maori environment: “My mother’s Pakeha, my father’s Maori and I have this natural affiliation with my Maori side. It’s just that when you’re around it, there is a rhythm, there’s an intoxication in the way you interact with each other. Yet it’s not polarising – anyone can have this. We all want everyone to be part of it. It’s a wh?nau feeling, it’s a comfortable feeling to be on set and to laugh and sing. It’s a natural rhythm that will come through on the screen, and to be living it and breathing it every day is just a lovely thing.”

She also enjoyed working with director Kahi: “He’s very open. He’s not guarded. He’s got lot to give, but what really makes it solid on set is that he just knows what he’s doing.

“He’s got that really lovely thing of not holding onto any parts of the script. A lot of directors who write are so close to it that they just get precious and hold onto their way of doing it. He’s wonderful like that. He knows all the characters and he’s given them to us and then he lets us find them as well.”

Temuera Morrison describes Kahi as “the only director I’ve worked with that directs with his ears. There are times when he’s not even looking at the monitor to see what he’s getting on camera. He’s listening to the tonal qualities. He’s trusting his boys are catching it on sound and camera, but he’s listening to see if it rings true to him and that’s beautiful.”

Coming from a musical family, it’s no surprise that Kahi’s first feature film is music-oriented. He grew up with all genres, influenced by his father, George Kahi’s playing in bands, including with the legendary 1970s guitarist Billy TK.

Tearepa Kahi says, “My house was full of music. We didn’t listen to the radio, we listened to records. It was a mix of Jimi Hendrix, Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Bob Marley. Reggae music, especially Bob Marley’s lyrics, have always had a place in my life. I’ve listened to him since I was young and I still feel so moved and find new meanings in every single one of his lines.”

Hita: “Bob Marley has always had a very special place in M?ori people’s hearts. I think that’s probably true of lots of indigenous cultures around the world because the politics in his music resonated with what a lot of indigenous people were struggling with. That’s certainly true of Maori and that’s a large part of why Maori people have this huge love for Bob Marley.”

Stan Walker has an unusual experience of Marley:  “All my life I thought Bob Marley was Maori! I didn’t know he was from anywhere else. Somebody told me, only five or six years ago, that he was Jamaican. I didn’t know. I thought he was M?ori because he’s the biggest musical influence in New Zealand.”

Tearepa Kahi is also a musician, having grown up playing trumpet, and he wrote the lyrics and music for some of the songs in Mt Zion, working with guitarist/composer Shane McLean on the rest.

He says, “Shane was instrumental in terms of the arrangement and the feel. I was very specific about what I wanted because I knew that the music had to come from the people and the people come from the land. My family has a deep history with the Ratana Church, which has very melodic hymns – so there’s a foundation of music there. And then we put hard work, land, spuds, the garage, four-string guitars and pots & pans onto that. All of the music comes from that dimension. We’re not trying to speak beyond the world in which the characters live.”

McLean says “We tried to capture the 70s feel and have a reggae twist on it. The band in the film wants to play support for Bob Marley and they’re influenced by him, but in saying that, Bob hadn’t really reached, fully, the reggae New Zealand scene by then, so we had a sort of a taste of rock music in with it. What you’d hear in New Zealand is someone doing a Jimmy Hendrix lick over reggae music.”

This is a style departure for Stan Walker from his current pop music, but he sees it as all part of acting the role and he loves all types of music: “I believe that music isn’t about a certain style. Music is music. It doesn’t matter what style it is, what genre it is, and I just want to share all types of music because it’s music at the end of the day.”

However, in the film it’s “kinda old school reggae. But me, being an R&B pop singer, I’m bringing my flavour into this, so it’s not your typical reggae now, because I think you have to be fully immersed into reggae to be able to have that realness. But I do my best and I just bring my experience, my feel, and my style into it as well. I love it – these songs are so awesome.”

Hita: “It’s exciting that people will be able to hear one of their beloved pop stars singing new musical territory. The quality of Stan’s voice is consistent no matter what he is singing. We saw that in the Australian Idol competition he won where he had to sing different genres every week. I really love the music in this film. It’s very earthy, it’s got a not overly produced sound and it feels good, which is in keeping with the story of the film. And Stan just does it complete justice. He sounds amazing.”

Mt Zion is written and directed by Tearepa Kahi, who made the international award-winning short film Taua. It is produced by Taua producer Quinton Hita of Kura Productions, through production company Small Axe Films, and executive produced by Christina Milligan (Nights in the Gardens of Spain). Funding is from the New Zealand Film Commission, NZ On Air, Maori Television and Te M?ngai P?ho. The New Zealand distributor is Sony Pictures NZ. NZ Film, the sales arm of the NZFC, is handling world sales of the film.

 

ABOUT THE PRODUCTION

Mt Zion was filmed in Pukekohe, a town 50km south of Auckland, known for its market gardens, primarily producing potatoes and onions. In 1979, the area was regarded as the food basket of New Zealand, and the potato fields were the major source of employment for Maori of all ages – Mt Zion writer/ director Teareapa Kahi’s family included.

For Kahi, it was imperative to shoot the film there – not just in the town, but in the actual house used in the film: “That was my Nana and Papa’s house. I know every inch of that whare and that garage very well – as do every one of my cousins. There wasn’t another place in the world that I wanted to shoot this film. It’s the heart of the story. It’s where those stories actually took place.”

His family’s marae, Nga Hau E Wha O Pukekohe, played a vital role in the filming, not only as the on-screen location for some of the action, but as a support centre for the film crew throughout the shoot. Many of the local people played roles as extras in the film – the former potato field workers among them still had their work clothes and gear from the 1970s and were able to give the actors advice about how to do the work

Temuera Morrison: “A lot of those people were the real deal. They were the potato pickers of the time and we had great fun with them out in the fields. They were telling us how it was done, and getting that social background from the actual people was just beautiful.”

Stan Walker: “Potato picking! I honour and I give it up to the people who did that all their lives. I couldn’t even last one day. We were all useless. It was fun to be doing it as acting, but honestly, I couldn’t do that for real. Sore back, hot sun. Oh man, that’s a hard job.”

Local potato farming identity, Peter Reynolds was on set as farming advisor and supplied the authentic 1970s farm machinery for the film.

“We have been at this for many generations, so when the film company approached us we thought it was a great idea,” he says, “The potato picking and the story between the father and son, that’s the sort of thing that happened back in those times.”

Before starting to shoot, Kahi and the cast spent five weeks in his Nana’s garage rehearsing, which also included lessons in 1979-style potato picking and, for Temuera Morrison, learning to drive the vintage tractor.

It was important to Kahi to get the characters right, to make sure the actors were “Puke” enough to meet his standards of authenticity. So as well as working with the script, they spent time together, “biking around Puke, digging spuds in Puke, working at the marae, sitting in the garage learning lines and understanding that we were going back in time.”

The other element, along side the performances, the music, costumes and props, that Kahi paid careful attention to was the dialogue:  “It’s not modern-speak. It’s actually how our uncles, aunties and our older cousins used to speak. So we had to make sure the dialect, the language, which is very working class, is very Pukekohe.”

His father served as dialogue coach over the many years Kahi spent developing the script.

Morrison appreciated the value of the rehearsal period: “We kind of gelled. We came together as a family. We have a lovely rapport, so we’re very fortunate. Some of the magic of the film is just how we relate to one another.”

Producer Quinton Hita pays tribute to Morrison’s commitment to the film. “There wasn’t really an obligation for Temuera to be involved at that time because he’s an experienced actor and he knew what his role was about. But he spent all that time with us.”

Other locations included the nearby Patum?hoe Rugby Club, which served as the Vinyl Shrine, the local pub where the band Small Axe got its first break, the central Auckland Hopetoun Alpha and Mercury Theatre buildings, which were used as audition venues.

Production designer Savage sourced most of the 1970s vintage vehicles locally and finding that potato expert Peter Reynolds had the authentic farm vehicles and equipment was a big advantage. The blue Holden Kingswood ute driven by Temuera Morrison’s character Papa was hired from a local collector and the boys’ classic 1970s bicycles, including the Raleigh 20 ridden by Turei, were found in Pukekohe and nearby Waiuku.

He found a lot of original 1960s and 70s furniture and wallpaper in Pukekohe and there was a lot of authentic furniture already in Tearepa Kahi’s family house. Savage says it was important to find the domestic props in Pukekohe because it needed to look as if the family had bought it from the local store. “We didn’t get too hung up on everything coming from the 1970s and we went back to the 60s as well. In fact, there were some things that were around in 1979 that we didn’t use at all because they are associated in people’s minds with 1980s retro and we didn’t want to distract the audience’s attention away from the story.”

Costume designer Gavin McLean was another crew member whose work benefitted from the authenticity of Kahi’s basing his script on his own family. He says, “I treated the whole movie as a documentary or a day in the life of Pukekohe and the main reference I used was Tearepa’s family photos. There’s a group shot of about 20 of his family taken in the 1970s. So I used that as the basis for choosing the looks for each character.”

Small Axe is not a band with a particular costume – they just wear their casual gear. “There had to be some contrast between what they look like and what they sound like. You see these ordinary kids go up on stage and you hear them play with extreme talent. The music says it all.”

 

ABOUT THE CAST

Stan Walker plays Turei

Playing Turei in Mt Zion is singing star Stan Walker’s acting debut. It is just another challenge cheerfully met in his meteoric career, which began with a bang when he won Australian Idol in 2009.

Before that, he was working in a Queensland menswear shop and singing in church. As a 12-year-old, he was inspired by Guy Sebastian’s 2003 Australian Idol win and at 19 he wowed the judges and the public with his versatile talent and engaging presence to take out the recording contract prize.

He is now signed to Sony Music as a recording artist and EMI Publishing as songwriter and is a chart-topping pop star in both Australia and New Zealand. He has sold more than 80,000 albums in New Zealand, with triple platinum sales of his debut album ‘Introducing’ and platinum sales of ‘From The Inside Out’. He has a total of five gold singles, plus one platinum and one double platinum in New Zealand to date.

The album, ‘Introducing’ also went platinum in Australia, debuting at No 3 in the album charts and ‘From the Inside Out debuted at No 2 in Australia. His debut single, ‘Black Box’ hit No 2 in Australia and No 1 on New Zealand singles charts.

He has won five New Zealand Music Awards: Highest Selling NZ Single (2010), International Achievement Award (2010), NZ On Air Airplay Record of the Year (2010 & 2011) and the Vodafone People’s Choice Award (2010). He also won the Waiata M?ori Award for radio airplay record of the year. In Australia, he has had four Aria Award nominations and two Nickelodeon Australian Kids Choice Award nominations.

His song ‘Stand Up’ featured on the Australasian release of the movie The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. He has recorded and toured with Jessica Mauboy, recently seen in Australian box office hit The Sapphires. He has also recorded with Young Sid, Kayo, and co-written with DNZ. In May 2012, he was support act for Nicki Minaj on the Australian leg of her ‘Pink Friday’ tour.

Born in Melbourne of Tuhoe and Ng?ti Ranginui descent, he grew up in Mount Maunganui and Queensland. Proudly Maori, he says, “I’m Maori and I will always represent my culture.”

Stan Walker will be a judge/mentor on X-Factor New Zealand, broadcasting in 2013.

Temuera Morrison plays Papa

Temuera Morrison, of Te Arawa and Ngati Maniapoto descent, is one of New Zealand’s foremost actors, with a career in Hollywood as well as in New Zealand.

His recent roles include Dr Hemi Crane in the NZ comedy horror Fresh Meat, the lead role of Kereama in Tracker, the NZ/UK co-production filmed in New Zealand, and Scorpion King 3: Battle For Redemption. He also played Doctore in Starz US television series Spartacus: Gods of the Arena.

He played Abin Sur in Green Lantern, with director Martin Campbell, who he previously worked with on Vertical Limit (2000). His other Hollywood films include Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith, which followed his role as Jango Fett in Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones; The Marine 2, Couples Retreat, Speed 2: Cruise Control, From Dusk Til Dawn 3, Barb Wire, Six Days Seven Nights and The Island of Dr Moreau.

Morrison’s breakthrough was his award-winning performance as Jake Heke in Lee Tamahori’s Once Were Warriors, a role he also played in the sequel, What Becomes of the Broken-Hearted, directed by Ian Mune. Other New Zealand films include River Queen and Rain of the Children, both with director/writer Vincent Ward; Crooked Earth, directed by Sam Pillsbury, and Geoff Murphy’s Never Say Die. His first well-known character was Dr Ropata in the highly popular soap opera Shortland Street, to which he made a surprise guest-role return in 2008.

Troy Kingi plays Hone 

Troy Kingi, of Te Arawa and Ngapuhi descent, is a talented musician, composer and singer. He lives in Kerikeri, Northland, and has been in and out of bands for the past 10 years. He now operates solo, with several music videos on YouTube. Playing Turei’s brother Hone in Mt Zion is his first acting role, to which he brings his guitar and singing talent as well as his experience in kapahaka.

He had worked as a scuba diving instructor for six years until resigning from that early in 2012 to study – for a BA, major in Maori language and minor in Music – extramurally with Massey University. Just after he had enrolled, he was cast in the film and had to postpone his study, but he has now completed his first year.

Since wrapping on the film, he has written songs for various projects while also working part-time teaching music at Kerikeri High School. One of his songs won the ‘Choice Not Chance’ problem gambling competition. He composed music for a video for the Raid Movement (a youth suicide prevention organization) and for an anti-smoking campaign for the Ngati Hine Health Trust. He recently collaborated on a music video of an original song with Mt Zion castmate David Wikaira-Paul, which is set for release in 2013, and is working on a suite of songs for an EP release, also in 2013.

David Wikaira-Paul plays Reggie

Playing Reggie in Mt Zion is David Wikaira-Paul’s first film role. Well-known in New Zealand for his role as the popular teenager Tama Hudson on Shortland Street in the early 2000s, he now lives in Australia.

He played Warena in the critically acclaimed M?ori mystery series Mataku, directed by Peter Burger.

From the Ngapuhi iwi, he trained at Northland Polytechnic’s Rawene Campus, where he played the lead role in the stage production “Te Ngaru Nui”. He also performed in plays with the Kaleidoscope Performing Arts Company and is a kapahaka performer.

A talented singer and musician, he won the 2005 television contest So You Wanna Be a Pop Star?, and later competed in Pop’s Ultimate Star and Dancing With The Stars. His former hip hop group Medical Clan won the prestigious South Side Gig twice (2000 and 2003) and performed on TV2’s 24-hour live music show, National Anthem.

Darcey-Ray Flavell-Hudson plays Pou

Mt Zion is Darcey-Ray Flavell-Hudson’s second feature film in this 18-year-old’s short career, which already includes national fame.

He is the star of the hugely popular (more than 2.1 million YouTube hits), award-winning  Land Transport “Legend” TV commercial and has become widely known as “Ghost Chips”.

Of Te Arawa descent, cousin of his co-star Temuera Morrison, he attended Western Heights High School in Rotorua, which he completed in 2011.

His other film role was as Holden in the blockbuster hit Boy. He has also worked in the hit NZ television series Outrageous Fortune, the Australian series Last Man Standing and short films Kerosene Creek and Ebony Society

He has been playing drums for nine years and is a talented singer.

Miriama Smith plays Layla

Miriama Smith, of Te Arawa and Tuwharetoa descent, has been an actress and TV presenter since her debut on the television series Shark in the Park as a teenager. From there, she became well-known as Nurse Awhina Broughton in the early days of Shortland Street.

She won the 2012 NZ Television Awards best supporting actress award for her role in the TV One drama Siege, playing Delwyn Keefe, partner of gunman Jan Molenaar.  It was her second character role based on a real-life person, following her portrayal of lawyer Donna Hall in Stolen, the telemovie about the kidnapping of baby Kahu.

Her feature films include Spooked, directed by Geoff Murphy, We’re Here to Help, Toy Love, Netherwood and The Other Side of Heaven.

Her impressive list of TV drama credits includes Kaitangata Twitch, Mercy Peak, Serial Killers and the critically acclaimed Maori mystery series Mataku, as well as international productions Xena Warrior Princess, Legend of the Seeker, Atlantis High, Power Rangers and The Tribe.

She has also worked as a presenter on shows such as Destination New Zealand, House & Garden and Intrepid Journeys. She was a judge on Prime’s New Zealand’s Got Talent and a contestant on TVNZ’s Dancing With the Stars. She has a Bachelor of Sport and Fitness from Waikato University and a Postgraduate Diploma in Communications from Auckland University of Technology. She is very active in hands-on involvement with the charities she supports, most recently building a house in Sri Lanka as part of a Habitat for Humanity team.

 

ABOUT THE FILMMAKERS 

Teareapa Kahi, Writer/Director.

Tearepa Kahi wrote and directed and edited the short film Taua, which won the best short film award at the 2007 National Geographic All Roads Festival (USA) and was awarded honourable mention at the 2007 ImagineNATIVE Film and Media Arts Festival in Canada. His other short film, The Speaker, won the Friends of the Civic Award for Best Short Film and the 2006 Wairoa M?ori Film Festival Short Film Drama Award.

He has also directed TV documentaries The Flight of Te Hookioi, which earned him a best director nomination at the 2010 Qantas Film and Television Awards; and First Time in Prison for TV3’s prestigious Inside New Zealand slot in 2008. His director credits also include Allan Baldwin: In Frame, One Fine Day, K?whao Rau, All Roads Profile, Native School and M?ori ID.

Kahi is a member of Te Paepae Ataata – the Maori Script Development Board; he was a former Chairman of Nga Aho Whakaari – the Maori  TV and Film Body and is also the creative and cultural consultant for Maori  Television’s brand campaigns. He was presenter of Iti Pounamu, Maori Television series on films and filmmaking.

Of Ngati Paoa and Waikato descent, he grew up in Christchurch in a musical family. He sang and played trumpet and saxophone. At age 17 he was selected to perform in a play at the Christchurch Arts Festival. He was spotted by actor/director and Maori theatre pioneer Jim Moriarty, who asked him to join the theatre troupe Te Rakau Hua o te Wao Tapu. The troupe toured New Zealand, performing in schools, universities, prisons and marae. Kahi left the group after two and a half years to settle in Auckland, where he completed a degree in History and M?ori at Auckland University.

He worked as an actor while also directing for children’s television show Tikitiki and the documentary Ahorangi. He played Roroneto (Lorenzo) in Don Selwyn’s landmark te reo M?ori feature film Te Tangata Whai Rawa o Weneti (The Maori Merchant of Venice) and roles in Shortland Street, the television series Mataku and Aroha and short film The Hill.

Quinton Hita – producer 

Quinton Hita runs Kura Productions, a joint venture with South Pacific Pictures, specialising in making M?ori programmes for television. Productions he has produced or executive produced include M?ori language teaching series Toku Reo, Kowhao Rau in which he interviews kaumatua about their life and times, Kupuhuna, a Maori language quiz/game show and children’s show Pukoro. All of these shows have been commissioned by Maori Television for several repeat series, as a result of successful formats and execution.

Hita branched into producing films when director Tearepa brought his short films Taua and The Speaker to him to produce. Both turned out to be award-winning films, invited to many international film festivals – Taua won best short film award at the 2007 National Geographic All Roads Festival (USA) and was awarded honourable mention at the 2007 ImagineNATIVE Film and Media Arts Festival in Canada. And The Speaker won the Friends of the Civic Award for Best Short Film and the 2006 Wairoa M?ori Film Festival Short Film Drama (Aotearoa) Award.

From Ngapuhi, Hita has dedicated his career to expanding the reach of te reo Maori, not only through his television work, but in radio (Ruia Mai, Mai FM, Tautoko FM) and publishing. He served for six years as youth representative on the board of Te Taura Whiri i Te Reo Maori, the Maori Language Commission. His published work includes the book  “Q’s Course in Maori”, published by Harper Collins.

His television career began as one of the original presenters on Mai Time, the TV2 M?ori youth programme. He then joined the original on-air team on Pukana, becoming writer, director and Te Reo Maori consultant over a period of three years.

He is also an experienced actor, with Shortland Street – he played Nelson Copeland – and feature films Crooked Earth, Toy Love and Akido Insane to his credit. After two years as an actor on Shortland Street, he moved to behind the scenes work as writer and M?ori script editor.

Christina Milligan – Executive Producer

As well as executive producing Mt Zion, Christina Milligan is producer of Tony Forster’s feature documentary The Accidental Berliner, which completes principal photography in Berlin in November 2012.

Her recent projects include the telefeature Nights in the Gardens of Spain, based on the novel by Witi Ihimaera and directed by Katie Wolfe. Under its international title Kawa, it won Best Film at the US National Geographic All Roads Film Festival in 2011. It is distributed internationally by Wolfe Releasing.

As an executive producer, her projects include the short films Aphrodite’s Farm (winner Crystal Bear, Berlin 2009), This Is Her (Sundance 2009) and the animated Poppy (winner Siggraph, Los Angeles 2010).  She is currently producing a short for director Liz Hoyle about the NZ internet celebrity PattyBoy.

In 2008, her feature documentary Let My Whakapapa Speak (directed by Tainui Stephens) screened on Maori Television and was a finalist for the 2008 Qantas Award for Best Maori Language Programme.

Her career highlights include producing the iconic NZ feature The End of the Golden Weather with Ian Mune. She produced a series of international children’s television drama co-productions including Star Runner (Atlantis/SPP) and Deepwater Haven (Beyond/TFI/Ravensburg/SPP) and has written for a number of Australian prime-time television dramas, notably McLeod’s Daughters (Millennium/Nine/Hallmark).

Milligan lectures in screen production at AUT and has served on a number of industry boards and committees.  Of Ngati Porou descent, she is currently on the Board of the Maori Film Practitioners organization Nga Aho Whakaari, and deputy chair and treasurer of Script to Screen.

Currently she has in development the feature Woman Warrior (Whiria), an epic story of love, war, death and revenge set in pre-European Aotearoa/New Zealand.

Karen Te-O-Kahurangi Waaka-Tibble – Line Producer

Karen Te-O-Kahurangi Waaka-Tibble is of Te Arawa descent and was born and raised in Rotorua. Also of Scottish, Irish and English descent, Karen has grown up and worked extensively in the tourism industry in Rotorua and more recently in the Maori media and television industry.

For the past seven years she has been producer for Kura Productions, working with Mt Zion producer Quinton Hita. She has produced the shows Pukoro (series 2 to 7), all four series of Kupuhuna, all five of Toku Reo and all four of Kowhao Rau.

With over 23 years experience as a cultural performer, she has promoted New Zealand and Maoridom through China, United States, Germany, and Japan.

She was also a business mentor with Te Puni Kokiri (Ministry of Maori Development) as a Tourism Account Manager for the Maori Business Facilitation Service (2005–2007) providing mentoring services to Maori Businesses. Previous work includes management roles with Tarawera NZ Ltd, NZ M?ori Arts and Crafts Institute, and chair of the Maori Regional Tourism Organisation – M?ori in Tourism Rotorua, which spanned 10 years.

She has served on national boards: Maori Tourism Advisory Group to the NZ Tourism Strategy 2010, Ministerial Advisory Group on Immigration, NZ Tourism Research Council and is a former board member of Aotearoa Maori Tourism Federation.

She is currently Chair of the Maori Trademarks Advisory Group (since 2003) and was a member of the 1995 focus group that developed the discussion paper and consultation with Maori that saw many of the recommendations being included in the revised legislation. In 2006, she travelled with the Official NZ Delegation to Geneva to attend the Eighth session of the WIPO Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore. 

Fred Renata – Director of Photography

Fred Renata is established as one of New Zealand’s leading directors of photography. He won the New Zealand TV Awards best camera: drama award in 2003 for his work on the TV series Street Legal. He was nominated at the 2005 New Zealand Screen Awards his cinematography on the feature film Fracture and at the 2006 Qantas Television Awards for the TV series Doves of War.

His recent work includes the television drama of the Witi Ihimaera novel Nights in the Gardens of Spain and the feature documentary He Wawata Whaea, profiling te reo advocate Merimeri Penfold, which was a finalist in the 2010 Documentary Edge Film Festival. Other documentaries include Taku Huarahi Ki Tua O Te Arai, Let My Whakapapa Speak, Tangaroa and Tapu.

His television dramas include Orange Roughies, Skin and Bone, Hard Out, Mataku and Being Eve.

He was originally an electrical engineer before joining the lighting department on Merata Mita’s groundbreaking feature film Mauri.

Savage – Production Designer

Savage is a writer who also works as a production designer and art director. He has worked with director Tearepa Kahi on two earlier projects: the documentary Allan Baldwin: In Frame and the award-winning short drama, The Speaker, which was written by Kahi based on an idea by Savage. He also co-wrote (with Damon Fepulea’i) a short film, Watermark, which won awards for best short film, cinematography and acting at the Drifting Cloud Short Film Festival in Wellington.

After an initial career in book publishing and as a librarian at MTV in London, while he harboured a dream of being a novelist, he returned to New Zealand and decided to write screenplays. He studied media studies at the University of Auckland, where he eventually became a media studies tutor, while working on Watermark with Fepulea’i, a friend from his Avondale College days.

A Pakeha, he made his surname into a single name by deed poll and is not to be confused with the Samoan rapper with the stage name Savage. He currently has seed funding from NZ Film Commission to work on a screenplay of a family drama called Two Dogs.

Gavin McLean – Costume Designer

Gavin McLean designed costumes for feature films Billy T: Te Movie, The M?ori Merchant of Venice, Crooked Earth, The Tattooist, The Ferryman and Rain of the Children. His television costume design work includes three seasons of Power Rangers and American TV movies Avalon High, You Wish, Johnny Kapahala: Back on Board and Atomic Twister and he was costume art director on US series Spartacus: Blood and Sand.

Of Ngati Maru, Ngati Porou and Whakat?hea descent, he learned his craft at Wellington Polytechnic, gaining a Diploma in Textiles from a course which covered all aspects of costume design and making, as well as the history of costume and business management.

He began his career on the 1989 production of the Te Manuka series E Tipu E Rea and spent four years working for English production company Cloud Nine in Wellington, designing costumes for a wide range of television programmes, including The Tribe series 1 and 2, Swiss Family Robinson, Treasure Island, Enid Blyton and Twist in the Tale – William Shatner. He worked as standby wardrobe on the iconic NZ feature film Once Were Warriors as well as Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures, Alison McLean’s Crush and the NZ/Canadian television series Mysterious Island.

 

 

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