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Don Selwyn honoured again

Alongside the NZFC and Nga Aho Whakaari (NAW) hui earlier this week, Tony Forster was invited by former colleagues from Selwyn and Ruth Kaupua’s He Taonga Films to witness a long overdue delivery.

At the 2003 New Zealand Film Awards, Don was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award. I was overseas at the time, but I have now learnt that sometime during the lead-up to the ceremony, the plan changed.

Some people decided that the appropriately engraved paua shell was not appropriately magnificent enough an object to honour such a great contribution to both our industry and our culture. So a considerably bigger taonga was created – I’m given to understand that the actor and former student of Don’s, Temuera Morrison, was a prime mover in this.

The new taonga was the trophy presented on the night to “The Don”, as he was nicknamed, in recognisiton of his godfatherly role in nurturing so many young Maori into the craft of film-making.

Meanwhile, the paua shell somehow got forgotten, left behind.

Don Selwyn

Don Selwyn

After all these years, it turns out that the paua shell has been sitting quietly in storage at the NZFC premises. So when the NZFC organised this hui with Nga Aho Whakaari, it was decided to incorporate into the powhiri a handing over of the paua shell to Don’s film-making whanau.

It was utterly appropriate that this hui, and the presentation, be held in the refurbished and expanded wharenui at Te Mahurehure Marae in Point Chevalier, Auckland. This was the marae that was leased for a number of years to He Taonga Films, and which served as the company’s regular shooting location, both interior and exterior.

Not least among the films shot here were Don’s longtime dream project Te Tangata Whai Rawa o Weniti a.k.a. The Maori Merchant of Venice, the first ever feature film made totally in te reo Maori, and Barry Barclay’s Feathers of Peace.

Thus the marae has stood in for places as diverse as Portia’s palace in Venice and Rekohu (the Chatham Islands) in 1839.

The handing-over ceremony was brief, but poignant. The NZFC’s Jasmin McSweeney and Briar Grace-Smith delivered the paua shell, nestled in orange tissue inside a small black box, to Ruth Kaupua, Don’s business partner and co-producer – and a few tears were shed.

“(He was) the bridge between our two cultures.”– Ian Mune

“He saw both the dark and the light of what it means to be human. He told us about it, and what to do.”
– Tainui Stephens

For biographies of Don Selwyn, see NZ On Screen, the Arts Foundation, or Wikipedia.

In memoriam Don Selwyn, 1935-2007.

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