Behind the lens of Merata Mita

By Te Kuru o te Marama Dewes

A tribute film about Merata Mita (Ngāti Pikiao, Ngāi Te Rangi), one of New Zealand’s most influential filmmakers, is screening as part of the New Zealand International Film Festival (NZIFF). Directed by Heperi Mita, Merata: How Mum decolonised the screen, looks at the ground-breaking contribution his mother Merata Mita made through film and media at times of political unrest in NZ as well as paving the way for indigenous women worldwide.

Heperi Tikitere Mita (Ngāti Pikiao, Ngāi Te Rangi) says, “This wahine toa filmmaker, stealing films to make protest films, hiding films from the cops because they're after it for evidence against people in the movement. Cops coming after them, cops raiding the house, those types of things, to find the footage that she had shot of protest movement meetings of protest activities.”

Merata Mita captured landmark moments of protest and division in Aotearoa, including the momentous Bastion Point: Day 507 and Patu! which documented the clashes between police and protestors during the Springbok Tour of 1981.

Heperi Tikitere Mita says, “You know they were arresting people this was 81’, this was 78’, the era of the Polynesian Panthers, Ngā Tama Toa, they were after those people and mum had those connections and she was filming those people.”

“The revolution isn’t just running out with a gun. If a film I make causes indigenous people to feel stronger about themselves, then I’m achieving something worthwhile for the revolution.” - Merata Mita.

In 1988 she made Mauri, the first dramatic feature film to be directed solely by a Māori woman, or any indigenous women anywhere in the world.

Producer Chelsea Winstanley says Merata Mita paved the way for Māori media and women despite facing adversity and concentrated opposition. 

“We definitely have come a long way, still a long way to go but the fact that we are making films on a world stage, that was the community that I think she was hoping to build so we are getting there definitely, but it's because of her. And she's created all these incredible relationships with indigenous communities, if she hadn't done that, we wouldn't have this worldwide global whānau that we have now and that's special,” says Winstanley.

Hepi says he wanted to show another side to his mother that may not be widely known.

“I always just knew her a very loving mum, and I think the public perception that it's very hard to be both of those things but to me, that's exactly what she was she could walk both worlds and that's the story that I wanted to portray,” says Heperi Mita.

The film will be screened throughout the country as part of the NZIFF before being shown internationally.