Indigenous stories “needed more than ever”, says Kiwi filmmaker

A "Maoriland" sign made of string lights.

Māoriland Film Festival is Aotearoa’s International Indigenous film festival founded by Libby Hakaraia (Ngāti Raukawa).

Several of Aotearoa New Zealand’s most celebrated indigenous filmmakers are sharing their experiences in Sydney next week as part of the renowned South by Southwest (SXSW) festival.

The festival will feature a celebration of the film, music and tech industries — billed as a gathering of the world’s most inspired and creative thinkers.

The Kiwi contingent comprises filmmakers Libby Hakaraia (Ngāti Raukawa), Chelsea Winstanley (Ngai te Rangi), and Tainui Stephens (Te Rarawa), each of whom have impressive careers in producing, directing and championing indigenous stories on screen. They will be joined by indigenous Australian writer and director Chantelle Murray, of Bardi and Buniol. Their appearance at the festival comes just two days after Australians cast their vote to change the constitution to recognise the First Peoples of Australia by establishing an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice.

Hakaraia, director, producer and author, is also the founder of the Māoriland Film Festival which takes place in Ōtaki each year and is the Southern Hemisphere’s largest indigenous film festival attended by indigenous filmmakers from across the globe. She will moderate a panel discussion titled Indigenous Collaboration: Films That Heal.

“The films indigenous people make are about making sense of the modern world and all it brings by connecting us with the environment and practices that reflect that connection. These indigenous perspectives are needed as humankind faces unprecedented crises.”

Hakaraia, a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit who produced the film adaptation of Cousins by acclaimed New Zealand author Patricia Grace, says issues such as climate change and the pressure on resources are becoming “alarmingly more negative”.

“I think we ignore to our peril the wisdoms of tens of thousands of years to follow weather patterns, to follow planting seasons and to only take resources you need. The mental health of people across the planet is being affected.  Indigenous films remind us to tap back into what’s important and to have conversations with our fellow human beings.”

Indigenous storytelling tackles an expansive range of topics says Hakaraia. “We can look at really hard subject matter and create gut-wrenching documentaries and dramas that are also infused with humour and hope.

“It’s another way of saying we have survived and we’re still here. It’s also a way to show healing that enables people to say: ‘I didn’t know that’, and to open a conversation.”

Hakaraia, who this year completed a decade as director of Māoriland, says it is something she regularly observes at the festival, and it gives her great optimism. “The statement we make that indigenous films are ones that heal is actually from my experience of being a festival director for the last 10 years and watching how audiences respond.

“They’re curious to start with and then become activated — their awareness that something’s not right and hasn’t been right for some time is met. Healing is about conversations and about having found your voice and rallying behind something when often you feel you have no control.

“Indigenous films are on the rise. It’s not about Indigenous filmmakers being on the margins anymore; people are curious for stories that make sense of the world around us, they are looking for Indigenous voices and we see they really respond in a positive way. People are hungry for these stories.

“It shows a way to heal instead of sweeping Indigenous rights, culture and language under the carpet. If you sit down and have conversations, you tap into humanity and the need to understand each other’s stories.”

Panel members will also discuss their insights for improving opportunities and outcomes for indigenous filmmakers and others working across the screen industry. It is supported by the Wellington UNESCO Creative City of Film which aims to elevate Māori screen storytellers on the world stage. 

Wellington was recognised by the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation for its abundant screen culture, technology, and creative talent. As part of this Screen Wellington partners with organisations such as Māoriland Film Festival to ensure more of our people have opportunities to work in the sector and engage with film culture.

The discussion takes place on Monday 16 October at 3:30pm, in the Cinema Theatre, Sydney University of Technology.

More information

SXSW Sydney 2023 Schedule

Māoriland Film

Screen Wellington

Date published: 11 October 2023