"Incredible" young Māori actress in the making

By Jessica Tyson

Aotearoa might have another Māori film star in the making with 10-year-old Ngāti Kahu and Ngāpuhi actress Isabella Evans.

Evans recently played the lead role in the short film Ani, a story observing the relationship between a father and daughter during a time of hardship.  In the film, Ani, played by Evans, and her father try to move on with life after her mother abandons them.

“It's not about anger it's about happiness,” says Evans.

The actress had only done a handful of television commercials before starring in Ani and says it was a great experience working with the production team.

Isabella Evans. Source: File

The film is directed by Josephine Stewart-Te Whiu and is based on her own experience growing up and spending time with her solo father.

“I was one of the filmmakers in Waru and so I wanted to explore what a good Māori father looked like.  I feel like in New Zealand, particularly in our cinema a lot of the times, Māori men are represented as violent, aggressive or useless and I really wanted to flip the script,” says Stewart-Te Whiu, of Ngāpuhi and Te Rarawa.

Josephine Stewart-Te Whiu and her father. Source: Josephine Stewart-Te Whiu

The father in the film was played by Maaka Pohatu, of Ngāi Tūhoe and Ngāti Pūkeko.  Pohatu is a graduate of Toi Whakaari and has performed in numerous productions including Strange Resting Places and The Māori Troilus and Cressida.

With the character of Ani, Stewart-Te Whiu wanted to observe the joys and the 'feralness' of childhood as well as the resilience of children during trauma.

“Izzy just blew us all out of the water.  She was so professional and amazing which you will see when you watch the film.  Her performance was incredible,” says Stewart-Te Whiu.

Maaka Pohatu and Isabella Evans in Ani. Source: Josephine Stewart-Te Whiu.

Evans says, "The scene that was hard to do was probably the bleeding nose because I have them quite a lot but it just felt weird having a fake one."

With confidence beyond her years, Evan’s own father Samuel Evans couldn't be more proud of her performance in the film.

“She has her own style and has got her own swag and is quite developed in her sense of who she is.  It’s just a pleasure to see her grow into the beautiful woman she is now and an amazing woman in the future,” he says.

With so many talents to choose from, Evans says she’s not certain about what career she wants in the future, but can see herself acting again in another film.

At the moment kapa haka is a priority.

“My class practices kapa haka every Friday and some days during the week,” she says.

Isabella Evans playing Ani. Source: Josephine Stewart-Te Whiu

Evans plans to further her learning of the arts by enrolling in Ngā Puna o Waiōrea.  At the school, she will be closer to her cousins who are already students there.

Ani is one of the films in Ngā Whanaunga Māori Pasifika Shorts and will screen for the first time in Auckland this Sunday as part of the 2019 New Zealand International Film Festival.