He WhakaaroOur Stories, Our Voice

Jul 7, 2016

Nā Matt Scobie

TK-69-Matt-ScobieI believe that sharing kōrero is the most important thing we can do. It is how we share knowledge, kinship, ideas, history, and hope with one another. Some people try to separate stories and ideas from facts and knowledge while many others are happy to accept that they are one and the same. Until recently, I was feeling that it had been far too long since I’d been told a good story. That was until I went to a day of talks and workshops under the name Our Own Image: The Legacies of Māori Film-making in Aotearoa New Zealand which convinced me otherwise. This day of talks was driven and guided by the late film-maker Barry Barclay’s (Ngāti Apa) mātāpono that “every culture has a right and a responsibility to present its own culture to its own people.”

Angela Moewaka Barnes (Ngāpuhi) shared her work which looks at representation of and by Māori in film over the early decades of Māori film-making. Angela talked about films including Barry Barclay´s Ngāti (1987), Merata Mita’s Mauri (1988), and Don Selwyn’s Te Tangata Whai Rawa o Wēniti (2002). The tip I took away was the importance of challenging and breaking stereotypes when we tell our stories. Michelle Keown (Ngāti Pākehā) spoke about representations of community and aesthetics in Māori literature and film. The main takeout from this was that even though a story is told at a certain point in time, it is a story that has been told across generations. These stories are therefore made up of the wisdom of generations, and will continue to be told and retold into the future. Karim Nathan (Te Pahipoto, Ngāti Awa) talked about recent examples of Māori film as a way to reflect on the possibilities for Māori film-making into the future – Mō tātou, ā, mō kā uri, ā muri ake nei. He discussed recent films including those directed by Lee Tamahori, Himiona Grace, and Taika Waititi. Two big ideas which Karim has, and justifies, are that in the grand scheme of things, the Māori story is the story that will thread together the history of Aotearoa, and that Māori should be running the film industry!

A story is told at a certain point in time, [but] it has been told across generations. These stories are therefore made up of the wisdom of generations, and will continue to be told and retold into the future.

While all these ideas around telling our own stories, representations in film, and self-determination are important characteristics of a film industry, there is one more key point – movies cost money. A key theme of the day was the lack of funding and mainstream platforms for films by and about Māori, telling Māori stories. As time goes on, this issue gets harder and harder to understand because, as Karim points out, some of the highest-grossing New Zealand films at the domestic box office have been directed by Māori (Taika Waititi’s Boy and Hunt for the Wilderpeople more recently smashing domestic box-office records). Hearing this, my first thought was now that iwi are increasingly taking social, environmental, economic, and cultural matters into their own hands, what are the prospects for an iwi-driven film industry working in partnership with the Crown’s funding agencies? Barry Barclay termed this as Fourth Cinema – films by and for indigenous peoples.

Film is a fairly natural way to tell our stories. It is closer to oral traditions than books, and is instantly accessible to a huge number of people. The Mahinga Kai web series is a wonderful example of Ngāi Tahu story-telling. The series embodies generations of knowledge being delivered in such a beautiful yet simple way to anyone in the world with an internet connection. This knowledge, these stories, have now been stored in a way that is accessible today, and into the future, in a medium true to tradition but also pushing the boundaries of the technological tools we have at our disposal.

Stories in any form can help us and future generations develop our own identities as Ngāi Tahu, Māori and New Zealanders. In the 21st century, navigating our identity can be confusing and sometimes overwhelming. Stories have certainly helped me to understand my whakapapa. Although I am far away and still have much to learn, having access to Ngāi Tahu stories like the Mahinga Kai series is helping me figure out who I am and where I am from. So while I thought that I hadn’t been told a good story lately, I have realised that stories are all around us – all the time. So if we were to tell more Ngāi Tahu stories through film, what would those stories be? And how can they help us with our identity now and in the future?

Matt Scobie is Kāti Huirapa – Ngāi Tahu. He is currently completing PHD study at the University of Sheffield. His research is focused on exploring ways to hold business and government accountable for their wider social and environmental impacts. He is particularly interested in engagement around the operations of extractive industries in areas of importance to indigenous groups.