NZ's first Māori virtual reality film to premiere internationally

By Jessica Tyson

New Zealand's first Māori virtual reality film, Whakakitenga, will have its international premiere this month at the world's largest indigenous film and media arts festival, imagineNATIVE in Toronto. 
Whakakitenga, written and directed by Wiremu Grace, of Ngāti Toa Rangatira, Atiawa ki Whakarongotai and Ngāti Porou, uses innovative virtual reality (VR) technology to immerse viewers in the sights and sounds of 1840s Te Ao Māori, the Māori world.

"These new storytelling mediums are not only engaging for the younger generation - they can also bring to life our oral traditions, values and ways of being in a new and exciting way that can transcend the limitations that constrict other types of media,"  Grace says.

The fictional story follows Ngāti Toa leader and warrior Te Rangihaeata as he realises the full implications of British colonial intent. With the threat of war on the horizon, Te Rangihaeata is forced to bring forth a vision of what the future will hold for his people. 
"Whakakitenga provides a way for audiences to reimagine the colonial encounter, using a Māori narrative in the Māori language. The VR technology brings together traditional knowledge and a Māori worldview to a wide audience. Using spatial audio technology, Ngāti Toa's most famous haka, Ka Mate, is also woven around the viewer." 

Grace worked with co-directors Miriam Ross and Paul Wolffram, as well as John Strang, the creative director of Dusk motion graphics and VFX studio, to use VR technology to tell the story in a way that is not possible in traditional film.

Ross says the technology "becomes a powerful tool to explore the past and a political tool to think about how new futures can be created." 

A Ngāti Toa cast provided performances at Miramar Creative Centre's Motion Capture studio, which were then converted into character action for the film.
Wolffram says, "working in VR to re-create an immersive experience of an environment that no longer exists has been an exciting challenge." 
Whakakitenga will screen online in imagineNATIVE's iNdigital Programme from October 20 to 25. 

The film premiered in March at the Māoriland Film Festival in Ōtaki.

Grace says a #D version is being made for viewing on YouTube and another version uses Dome technology (creating a video image that covers an entire domed projection surface, yielding an immersive experience that fills a viewer’s field of view).