Rangatahi tell powerful tales through film

In March this year the first-ever Māoriland Film Festival hit the big screen in Ōtaki. Film maker Libby Hakaraia was the driving force behind this inspirational initiative. She is committed to creating an annual event. As she prepares for the second Festival in March 2015, she explains how she convinced local students to take a leap of faith and try something new – to make a short film for the E Tu Whānau film-making competition.

“In November 2013, I went to talk to the year nine and ten classes at Te Kura-ā-Iwi o Whakatupuranga Rua Mano (WRM) in Ōtaki. I asked for a show of hands of people interested in making films. No hands went up.

While it seemed like no one was interested, I detected that this wasn’t the case. These rangatahi are raised in haka, waiata, mau rakau and physical exercise. Every class puts on a highly entertaining performance at the end of year whakaari which includes dance, song and theatre. So I appealed to the rangatahi to stick with me over the subsequent filmmaking workshops. They did, and together we looked at film genre, how to create and pitch ideas, and how to build a team to turn that idea into a film.

Originally I’d set ‘the ill effects of smoking’ as the subject for their films. That was, until I came across some posters for E Tu Whānau. I made enquiries about who was behind these powerful messages and, after meeting with Ann Dysart of the E Tu Whānau team, I presented the four E Tu Whānau kaupapa to the rangatahi and asked them to choose one each as a subject for a film.

Working as teams, the rangatahi were to make their short films under a “use what’s a hand” methodology, including the camera they found to shoot it on. The notion that film making is made by everyone’s efforts, mahi tahi, is one that all the rangatahi recognised immediately.

Over several sessions they workshopped their ideas, creating storyboards and assigning themselves to crew positions. They chose their actors and figured out where and on what they were going to shoot their films. I only stepped in when they got stuck or lost momentum as I wanted the rangatahi to have ownership of the process. In the pre production process, I could see them growing in confidence.

The production of four short films in less than 24 hours was challenging. It was a new thing for them to make films and of course there were problems; the camera wasn’t charged, the actors weren’t available, some rangatahi were really organised whilst others weren’t pulling their weight. By far the biggest issue was just how busy the rangatahi were at their kura. In the week they were shooting the films, many of them were involved in intensive training for the waka ama championships, Te Manu Kōrero speech competition, sports as well as their ongoing school work.

What I saw over the entire film making process was an ownership of the kaupapa, a knowing of the issues that underpinned these kaupapa, and a lack of fear in telling their stories. These rangatahi might be only aged 12-14 but they have a maturity when it comes to the issues of family violence that E Tu Whānau addresses.

Roll forward to the screening day itself and the presentation of the E Tu Whānau Rangatahi Film Making Awards. We had a big turnout from WRM and other kura and schools in Otaki. The rangatahi had not seen their finished films. Because time was against us I brought in an editor, Rihari Kite to put together the films.

Strong messages from rangatahi

It was a great event – the rangatahi saw their films on a huge screen, enjoyed the stories of actors Temuera Morrison and Lawrence Makoare, and shared the kaupapa of E Tu Whānau. The films were simple short stories but in each and every one of them there was a strong message from a rangatahi perspective.

I certainly saw a change in the rangatahi from WRM. I also saw the hunger in the eyes of some of the rangatahi from other kura and their teachers to be involved in next year’s film making challenge.

As one teacher from Waitohu School said, “Our tamariki were talking about the films they had seen. These conversations were happening in the classroom and in the playground…for days after they’d seen the films. It was hugely exciting to watch!”

Transformative power of story telling

Film is a powerful form of communication. Whether the film is entertaining or serious, based on fact or a work of fiction, films can transport the viewer through time, space, place and culture. They can pull on our emotions and challenge our thinking. They can bring a people together even if it’s only for the duration of the film itself.

All of this I witnessed first-hand at the Māoriland Film Festival. As the festival director it was my privilege to receive feedback about the transformative power of screen storytelling. One of my favourite moments was at the end of one film when an 82-year-old Otaki resident stood to thank a filmmaker saying she had been to six films in a row.

“I feel as if I’ve been around the world without leaving Otaki.”

In 2015, Māoriland Film Festival will be even bigger, with more films coming from all corners of the globe including those from our youth taking part in the E Tu Whānau Rangatahi film making competition.

I’ll see you there!

Find out more about Maoriland Film Festival here