Entertainment | Film

Why you must watch Ka Whawhai Tonu in its opening week (please)

Hinerangi Harawira-Nicholas at the premiere of Ka Whawhai Tonu on 17 June.

Yesterday a historical fiction film about the New Zealand Wars battle at Ōrākau, Ka Whawhai Tonu, opened in cinemas around the country.

And producer Piripi Curtis (Ngāti Rongomai, Ngāti Pikiao) has emphasised the importance of seeing the film, which is in Maōri, in the opening week.

This year marks the 160th anniversary of the bloody battle at Ōrākau in which Tūhoe, Ngāti Raukawa, Waikato and Maniapoto warriors and whānau were slaughtered by a large British force.

Curtis said the numbers attending the opening week for films were added up to indicate the success of a film, and the success of Ka Whawhai Tonu would make a business case for these kinds of stories.

The film was made with $7.6 million, roughly half the $15 million recommended by the Film Commission.

Curtis said his crew were passionate and committed to the kaupapa, many being descendants who wanted to honour their tupuna and portray them as “the amazing people they were”. That meant they made sacrifices, worked extra hard, and wore multiple hats.

Ka Whawhai Tonu - Struggle without End is directed by Michael Jonathan (Tainui, Mātaatua, Te Arawa), and is the third film about Ōrākau.

Rewi’s Last Stand (1925) was written and directed by Rudall Hayward and remade in 1940 but Ka Whawhai Tonu is written, produced and directed by Māori.

Curtis said Ka Whawhai Tonu could be a gateway to other Māori stories being told, and suggested one day telling the story of the invasion of Rangiaowhia, which is referenced in the film.

“If there’s more money around, we can train young Māori and use the film to grow our capacity as Māori productions.”

As chairman of Ngā Aho Whakaari (the Māori Screen Directory), Curtis said it had created a strategy to redefine Māori content as Māori owned.

The old policy was to have two of the three being Māori - director, writer and producer.

However, often what it found were films that were deemed Māori didn’t have Māori producers, which Curtis said was where the control lay as the owner of content.

Its new strategy is to foster story sovereignty, and to encourage Māori to tell their stories and, by supporting Māori stories, opens up the doors for others.