Māori making their mark in Hollywood

By Kayne Ngātokowhā Peters

Ra Vincent on the set of What We Do In The Shadows, the US TV series.

A Māori movie set designer in Hollywood says more and more indigenous filmmakers are gaining genuine recognition in the business.

Ra Vincent of Te Atiawa is this year's major recipient of the Te Aupounamu Māori Screen Excellence award, receiving $50,000 from the New Zealand Film Commission as a part of the award.

Vincent has designed and built film sets on some of the world's most recognised movie productions such as Jojo Rabbit and the three Hobbit movies.

Currently in Los Angeles working on a new production with Taika Waititi, Vincent says now is the time for indigenous storytelling onscreen.

"Right now is a great time to be one of the lucky indigenous storytellers who are working nowadays," he says.

"I've been fortunate enough to have been brought up in the gentle care of Sir Peter Jackson, and Taika Waititi and Jermaine Clement. And then to come to America and have relationships with directors who you've only ever read in the credit rolls or read in the newspapers. There is a genuine interest here for native storytelling." 

Two young actors with Ra Vincent on the movie set of the first Hobbit movie

Ra Vincent on the movie set of Jojo Rabbit.

Vincent says there is a genuine effort driven by the champions of indigenous storytelling such as the Māoriland Film Festival and Sundance Film Festival who have brought new energy to screenwriting on a global scale.

"I can tell in Los Angeles that there are writers' rooms that are a lot more colourful than they used to be," he says.

"I think it's becoming less and less of a shock to see a bit of brown skin on set. It's quite nice to cast your gaze around and the demographic is changing.

"It's not only in the ethnic diversity on a film set these days but also a real sense of a youthful new generation coming up. Some of the old hands are making a bit of space."

Filmmaking industry in Aotearoa

New Zealand film Cousins, directed by Ainsley Gardiner and Briar Grace-Smith. 

Tumu Whakaata Taonga (the New Zealand Film Commission) says despite the disruption to the film industry from Covid-19, production levels have remained high, with international productions located in New Zealand between July 2020 and  June 20, 2021, estimating to trigger a spend of NZ$730 million on local goods and services.

Since New Zealand cinemas fully re-opened in August 2020, 10 New Zealand films have released in cinemas, including This Town, Baby Done, Savage, Shadow in the Cloud, Dawn Raid and Cousins.

Aotearoa has become the hub for international productions due to the way the government has been able to handle outbreaks of Covid-19 but the way in which Kiwis work is also attracting movie makers.

Film Commission pouwhakahaere, Karen Te Okahurangi Waaka-Tibble, spoke to Te Ao Māori news from the Māoriland Film Festival and says the way in which indigenous storytelling is cared for and shared by Māori practitioners is why overseas productions look to have Māori on set.

"Ko te tino kaupapa, te matakite hoki o te Tumu Whakaata Taonga hei poipoi i ngā kaiataata pūrākau ki puta ai hei taonga tūturu mō Aotearoa. Nā reira, koira pea ngā ahuatanga e hiahia ana ērā atu o ngā kamupene nō tā wāhi kia haere mai ana ki te mahi ki te taha o ngāi Māori me ngā pūrkau o mātou kia puawai."

(The main vision of the New Zealand Film Commission is to nurture our filmmakers and visual storytellers to share these treasures for New Zealand. So that is perhaps why international companies like to come and work alongside Māori to work on our stories to help them blossom).

The commission has just opened its Ara ki Te Puna Kairangi – The Premium Development Fund to support ambitious and bold films with significant international appeal.

For more details, click here.