National | Documentaries

Story of Ihumātao to air in powerful new documentary

A powerful three-part documentary, recounting events surrounding the Ihumātao occupation is to premiere this week.

AKE AKE AKE!  will launch on Friday on the new Māori+ app, and it will also premiere next Monday night on Māori Television.

The documentary was produced by Whatanui Flavell, of Ngāti Rangiwewehi, Taranaki whānui, who has more than 10 years' experience in the television industry. He says making AKE AKE AKE! was a long journey that awoke a sleeping beast inside him, to make sure the story of Ihumātao was told.

“This isn’t just happening in Ihumātao, it's happening everywhere. It’s powerful, it's sad, it’s inspiring, but it's also very hopeful for what the future could bring. If we want to move forward as a nation, we need to be able to watch and understand the story of Ihumātao,” Flavell says.

With access to behind-the-scenes footage shot by cameraman Conan Fitzpatrick, the documentary tells an intimate story of loss, betrayal and resilience in the face of adversity.

Flavell says, “I knew about Ihumātao.  However, I knew nothing of the hard work by this whānau five years before the eviction, let alone the 150 years of injustices that have taken place on that whenua, to those people.”

The story is retold retrospectively through the eyes of six cousins as they recount the heartbreaking experience and the trauma their ancestors endured over decades in their struggles to retain the land.

“I want people to see the connection that this whanau had to their whenua, which meant that they were willing to do absolutely anything to hold on to the last bit of whenua they had,” Flavell says.

Present-day interviews with the movement's leaders, including Pania Newton and Qiane Matata-Sipu, makes inspirational and emotional viewing. The documentary also includes interviews with experts and supporters, including archaeologists, policy advisors and elders.

“The most challenging part of this project was condensing this story into three one-hour documentaries. We had to make some tough decisions about what to put in and what to leave out,” Flavell says.

The first episode investigates the occupation at Ihumātao from the perspective of the leaders of the campaign #ProtectIhumātao. The episode looks at the rise of a generation whose objective was to put a stop to a commercial development that was happening on their front doorstep.

The second episode follows the group of six cousins who are faced with defending their land from police officers with eviction papers. In the final episode, the #ProtectIhumātao campaign grows, so too does the dream. The movement realises its potential and sights are set on stopping development and uniting towards a road to resolution.

Coinciding with the second anniversary of the occupation that began in July 2019, AKE, AKE, AKE! shows how the inspirational footsteps of protesters past reverberate to this day.

“This was a campaign that drew its strength and willpower from previous land movements. The difference was the use of modern technology to engage, motivate and shake a nation out of complacency," Flavell says.

“Seeing Māori work together as whānau, make decisions as whanau, and draw strength from each other to create a really solid unit, now that is really powerful. And that is one of the lessons we can all learn from Ihumātao.”

Ake, ake, ake’ (meaning ‘as long as it takes’) is often preceded by the phrase ‘Ka whawhai tonu mātou’ (‘we will continue to fight’). It is a phrase that has become synonymous with Māori protest.