A film about child abuse, culture, media reporting and shame

By Te Kuru o te Marama Dewes

For the first time ever, eight female Māori directors have collaborated to birth Waru, a feature film screening at the New Zealand International Film Festival. A sequence of single-take vignettes, the 80-minute film explores the complexity of child abuse and themes of culture, custom and shame.

Waru is film about child abuse, culture, media reporting and shame told from the perspective of Māori women.

Director Katie Wolfe (Ngāti Tama/Ngāti Mutunga) says, “Eight women came together to create eight 10-minute films that are all pertain, come back to the the death of a child called Waru.”

With 19 kids between them and such a heavy topic, the process held many challenges for the directors.

Katie Wolfe elaborates, “It was at times a really painful process and there were a lot of tears shed in that time but in a really healthy way.”

Director Casey Kaa (Taitokerau, Tainui) says, “I have not had a lot of on-hand experience with child abuse and so telling a story that brings that all to the forefront is very confronting and challenging. I don't know any other way to have done it without having this rōpū do it all together.”

Katie Wolfe maintains the voices of women have not been supported in this setting.

“The project came out of the pretty terrible statistic that the last time a narrative feature film was directed by a wahine Māori in this country was by Merata Mita in 1988 and that's too long ago. It's not us just standing here saying you must do this, it's actually just women telling our stories.”

The directors hope to instigate discussion and inspire action.

Director Renee Maihi (Te Arawa, Ngāpuhi) says, “I just want people and Kiwis to understand that that's not who we are as Māori so please don't look at us like that. We were tender loving caring parents and our fathers were.

Casey Kaa says, “We don't pretend to have any answers and solutions but what we hope to do is empower people to find those for themselves and ultimately to make change to protect more of our tamariki.”

Waru premieres tonight to a sold out audience at the ASB Waterfront Theatre in Auckland.