A perfect match for the director - Te Pāmu Kūmara

By Marena Mane

History has been made, after the first 100 per cent reo Māori action children's drama made its debut on our digital platform, Māori plus.

Te Pāmu Kūmara, funded by Te Māngai Pāho, premiered last Friday and focuses on the superhuman adventures of Tai, played by  12-year-old Owai-rea Tawera, and her superhuman whānau, which runs a local vegetable shop from akūmara farm.

Director and script writer Awanui Simich-Pene (Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Hauā, Ngāti Tūwharetoa, Ngāti Maniapoto) says it’s finally, a children’s drama series she can relate to.

“My eldest daughter Pari rimu spent her first few years in the garden with my father and they forged this beautiful connection through Te Taiao. And so for a long time, I wanted to explore that story, so when Ataraiti approached me with this kaupapa it was a perfect match,” she says.

Simich-Pene made it her responsibility to ensure te reo Māori and te ao Māori were at the forefront of everything.

“I guess I saw my role as the director on Te Pāmu Kūmara as having a responsibility to look after the craft of the storytelling. Hei kinaki ki te reo Māori so just to create a solid waka to be able to deliver the content to tamariki.”

Mainstream worldview checks

“We definitely had a set of pātai (questions) that we would ask ourselves at the end of each episode, because sometimes I think maybe there is a tendency to get lost in a mainstream worldview and lens and so we had to keep bringing ourselves back if we ever did go astray. And that was really important for us.”

With a lack of 100% reo children's drama on our screens, Simich-Pene says Te Pāmu Kūmara is new and different and she enjoyed working with her young actors.

“I hope that our tamariki enjoy seeing themselves on screen and their very own TV drama, which is just as good as any Nickelodeon show or Netflix show. And finally, I hope our tamariki are reminded of the importance of whānau, whenua and kaitiakitanga.

“They were very professional and wonderful to work with until three o'clock and then everything fell apart. And then they'll just start giggling, like constantly, but we were very lucky with our cast. They were wonderful.”

Kararaina Rangihau of Ngāi Tūhoe and Te Arawa, plays the part of Nan. An actor/filmmaker, she was not originally scripted in but her audition struck a chord with Simich-Pene.

“A character that resonated with me was Nan. And so originally the character of Nan was actually a koro. And we asked Whaea Kararaina to read for Koro’s character because we hadn't cast him yet in a cast read-through. It was undeniable when she read that character. She bought that character to life. She was warm and natural and really funny, and it was just kind of a no-brainer.

Simich-Pene hopes that there will be another series but in the meantime, her main priority is being a māmā to her newborn Taurikura.