Filmmaker urges whānau to document their own stories

By Jessica Tyson

Multi-award-winning film-maker Hiona Henare is encouraging Māori families and tamariki to create their own films to keep stories within their iwi alive.

Henare says it’s important for Māori to tell their own stories instead of non-Māori filmmakers.

“It’s a really powerful tool, not only to preserve our own stories and our traditions but also to be able to share what we are doing here in Aotearoa among our own culture.”

Henare made her first film when she was 10 after her father bought a camera. She says new technology provides an opportunity for whānau and tamariki to record their own stories.

“Māori are natural storytellers. We all have phones. We all have cameras. Our tamariki have their iPads and their chrome books. They’ve all got cameras on them. So there’s an opportunity there for our whānau, for our tamariki to be out there recording stories, doing an interview with kuia, kaumatua, taking it to the marae.”

The official trailer for Ruahine: Stories in Her Skin. Source / Facebook

Ruahine, Stories in her skin

This week Henare premiered her most recent documentary: Ruahine, Stories in her skin, in the hope to normalise the wearing of moko kauae. 

“This is a family project, I’m just part of a bigger whānau machine behind this film,” Henare says.

The film premiered last night at the Doc Edge Documentary Festival and has been selected to screen at the festival, FIFO Tahiti: 2020 Prix Spécial Du Jury.

“Even when film festivals approached me to ask if they can screen Ruahine I have to go to my whānau first and that’s the agreement. That’s actually the way I want to work and the way that we all should be working.”

'Get used to the moko kauae because it's not going away' - Māori film maker / Te Ao 

The film focuses on a ceremony where two Muaūpoko wāhine, Anahera Winiata and Janice Cherie Pania Eriha, receive their moko kauae. Muaūpoko tā moko artist, Sian Montgomery-Neutze, gave the women her first-ever moko kauae. The ceremony took place at Pariri Pā in Henare’s hometown Levin.

“My first audience is my whānau and our people. I mean, we want to see our own faces on the screen and we want to be portrayed the way that we know them in positive ways and not always in that negative way, or if say a non-Māori filmmaker was making films telling our stories for us. So it’s really important for me first to be making films for our own people.”

In Ruahine, Anahera Winiata was one of the two wāhine who received her moko kauae. Source / Facebook

For Māori women receiving their traditional moko kauae, they are visually asserting their birthright and identity while celebrating the mana of their whakapapa. In Māori tradition, the head is considered the most tapu (sacred) part of the human body, making the practice of moko kauae highly prestigious and exclusive to Māori women.

"The takeaway for me will just be normalising moko kauae once and for all," Henare says.

But this comes after racial abuse recently being hurled at women wearing moko kauae. Henare recalls the recent incident where her friend Ngahina Hohaia, a Māori woman who has moko kauae was abused physically and verbally. 

"We felt it all over Aotearoa," Henare says.

"Come on New Zealand - this stuff shouldn't be happening, it shouldn't be happening at all.”

Racial attack against Māori artist exposes racism / Te Ao

Henare has received several accolades: the Australian Solid Screen Contribution to Screen Arts Award; the Audience Choice award and B​est Actress Award​ at the 2010 Wairoa Maori Film Festival; the NZ Film Commission's Huia Publishers Pikihuia Highly Commended Script Award; and the S​outhseas NZ student film award​ for Best Film Production.

She has represented filmmakers on the executive boards of Women in Film and Television, Ngā Aho Whakaari (Māori in Film & Television), Wairoa Maori Film Festival and TeNati Tahitian Film Festival. 

Ruahine will show again virtually on June 24 as part of the Doc Edge Documentary Festival.