May 18, 2021

Maori News & Indigenous Views

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Movies are a natural place for Maori, be it on screen, behind the camera, supporting the shoot or watching from the couch.

That ability to share our view of the world and to engage with audiences through moving pictures and sound fascinated audiences back in 1927 with the release ofRudall Hayward’s The Te Kooti Trail (itself marketed as being banned, due to memories still being fresh of the Maori Prophet) and then again in 1929 with the film Under the Southern Cross. Not only was the story Maori, but members of the cast held whakapapa.


Upon these theatrical foundations, Maori story-telling grew with films such as Hinemoa (1914), Rewi’s Last Stand (1940), To Love a Maori (1972), Patu & utu (1983 respectively), Kingpin (1985), Mauri (1987), Once Were Warriors (1994), What Becomes of the Broken Hearted (1999), Whale Rider (2003), The River Queen (2005), Rain of the Children (2008), The Strength of Water (2009) BOY & The Insatiable Moon (2010) and most recently Mt Zion (2013).

In the beginning of 2014, a visit to the set of upcoming film The Dead Lands reinforced the ability of films to show a Maori world, with a Maori story and a Maori cast.


The Dead Lands: Hongi (James Rolleston) – a Maori chieftains teenage son – must avenge his father’s murder in order to bring peace and honour to the souls of his loved ones after his tribe is slaughtered through an act of treachery. Vastly outnumbered by a band of villains, led by Wirepa (Te Kohe Tuhaka), Hongis only hope is to pass through the feared and forbidden Dead Lands and forge an uneasy alliance with the mysterious “Warrior” (Lawrence Makoare), a ruthless fighter who has ruled the area for years.

While visiting the set, I had the good fortune to be introduced to Director Toa Fraser (No. 2, River Queen, Holly Smiths ‘Bathe in the River’) nestled deep in the bush of Piha. He was quietly looking into the monitor, adjusting the camera to capture the best angle and light, moving quickly from the river where the Warrior and one of the other key characters were shooting a crucial fight scene.

Having never been on a set before, it was amazing to see the hurried activity come to an abrupt stop upon the utterance of the words “rolling – and action”. I even held my breath a few times. Take after take were shot, with the camera and sound crew moving to various positions to capture the face of the actors, and then the splash of the water, and then the swing of the weapons.

Maori weapons expert Jamus Webster was on set, so we introduced each other (both being from Rotorua) and talked about the film, the style of the movie and some of the challenges he faced in bringing our deadly arts to the shoot. Deeply respectful of the power of mau taiaha, mau patu, Jamus said he was able to take elements of how our tupuna fought and to reimagine them in this film. While not wanting to spoil the narrative, he spoke about the intensity of the training and the ability of each actor to merge with the weapon which they held. Some weapons, he mentioned, have never been seen before, though had the ability to kill a person if used incorrectly. At that very moment, my head turned to see a death blow being delivered to one of the characters. It sent a primordial chill up my spine.

Insights and Perspectives

From the short afternoon spent on set, I could sense that this 100% te reo Maori movie would find its place in the living fabric of Maori story-telling.

With films in the future looking dystopian and movies about the past having that sense of deja vu, The Dead Lands could spark a new rush to retell and re-imagine Maori stories.

We seem to like films that are about the kid down the road or movies that capture what is happening in the homes of Maori or down at the marae. Now might be the time to reach deeper into our imagination and to bring new visions of te Ao Maori to global audiences.

For me, the exciting thing about The Dead Lands is that we might be able to look back in time, before the coming of Pakeha, and to see epics that may not have been allowed in a different era.

I recall my koroua Rangiora Rakuraku talking about the film the Te Te Kooti Trail, in which his grandfather Tu Rakuraku appeared. He said that the film itself almost never got made – least of all because of funding issues. The tikanga needed to be respected, especially around a man who was fondly remembered in Tuhoe, Te Kooti a Rikirangi (or Te Turuki, as my koro called him).

Because of the sensitivities, an ancient Tuhoe war leader, Te Pairi Tuterangi, was asked to observe the shooting, and over time, he imbued the shoot with experience and knowledge, having himself been in contact with Te Kooti personally. The film today stands as a testament to the working together of 2 cultures to tell a many sided story.

From my small insight, The Dead Lands will have many audiences – from those wanting to see how Maori might have lived in the days before the Treaty of Waitangi, through to those wanting to see a kick-arse action film with uniquely Maori characters. International audiences will get to see a world that many of us hear about in whaikorero, and the added touch of being all in te reo Maori (with english captions) will allow our whanau and kaumatua to hear, as well as see, our tupuna coming back via the silver screen.

Some will watch to see what Maori fiction looks like, while others will be following the career paths of Toa Fraser, James Rolleston and Lawrence Makoare. Personally, I want to see something new and exciting, which is steeped in the past and tradition, but has that ability to stimulate my imagination and carry me along a path once travelled by my old people. So, we here at are totally looking forward to this much anticipated movie.

Many thanks to Sue May for opening the opportunity to visit the set – he mihi aroha e te tuakana, tena koe, tena koutou katoa.

The Deadlands is set for release later in the year.





2 thoughts on “Upcoming Movie: The Dead Lands

  1. He tika tou na Korero…….tautoko ana….where are our Tupuna Korero……why is tauiwi jumping in and making movies out of their Whakaaro….we have purakau and Whakaaro of our own….ka wea mai ko weena!

  2. Maori Film??????

    For those thinking this is a Maori film know that a Pakeha wrote this screenplay, Glen Standring, i ahu mai i te kiriata nei i te “whakaaro Pakeha” here is some other recent scripts of Maori movies Pakeha have written:

    Whalerider: Niki Caro
    Rain of Children: Vincent Ward
    White Lies: Dana Rotberg
    Tracker: Nicolas van Pallandt (South African)

    Where are the stories of our tupuna? Hone Heke and Kawiti,Te Kooti, Te Whiti and Tohu, Titokowaru, Rewi Maniapoto etc etc etc etc ? why are these not movies being made???????????????? These are true and meaningful stories of our ancestors, why are we making this Maori apocalypto stuff????? who is paying this stuff????

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