In many ways 2012 was a watershed year for me. I attended both the Berlinale in February and the ImagineNATIVE film festival in Toronto in October. I didn’t have a film at either of the festivals nor a project to pitch. Aspirations in film had taken a back seat to earning a living by making television. But my mentor and now husband Tainui Stephens spoke on panels at both festivals. Alongside him were other indigenous filmmakers. There was a buzz in the room. A wairua that saw Tainui and I caught up in various hui with filmmakers, festival directors and indigenous film supporters from all four corners of the globe.
Everyone was talking about a Native Film Circle. We were made aware of the Sami Film Declaration that the native filmmakers of Scandinavia had written in October 2011. It states:
- We the Indigenous screen storytellers, United in this Northern corner of our mother the earth, In a great assembly of wisdom we declare to all nations:
- We glory in our past
- when our earth was nurturing our oral traditions
- when night sky evoked the visions of our dreams
- when sun and the moon were our parents in stories told
- when storytelling made us all brothers and sisters
- when our stories brought forth great chiefs and leaders
- when justice was upheld in the stories told
- We will
- Hold and manage Indigenous cultural and intellectual property
- Ensure our continued recognition as primary guardians and interpreters of our culture
- Respect Indigenous individuals and communities
- Faithfully preserve our traditional knowledge with sound and image
- Use our skills to communicate with nature and all living things
- Heal our wounds through screen storytelling
- Preserve and pass on our stories to those not yet born
- We will manage our own destiny and maintain our humanity and pride as Indigenous peoples through Screen Storytelling.
This declaration resonated deeply with me. And continues to do so.
It reminded me of what it had felt like to be in the audience at imagineNATIVE in 2002 watching a film by Inuit director Zacharias Kunuk. Atanarjuat: the Fast Runner was the first feature film ever to be written, acted and directed entirely in Inuktitut. Set in the seemingly endless landscape of the Canadian Arctic it retells an Inuit legend of two hunters engaged in a violent feud.
Atanarjuat became the first indigenous language film to win the Camera d’Or and was the top grossing film in Canada in 2002. This year at the Toronto International Film Festival it was voted the greatest Canadian film of all time by filmmakers and critics!
And so it was that I found myself a decade later at the 2013 imagineNATIVE launching Maoriland Film Festival – Aotearoa’s first International Indigenous and Industry focused film festival to be held annually in Ōtaki on the Kapiti Coast.
In March 2014 we kicked off with six days of feature films and short films from around the world presented by indigenous filmmakers and film festival directors from Australia, Canada and the USA. Maori filmmakers including Taika and Temuera were on hand to share their stories. A highlight for all was the keynote address on the whakapapa of Māori film given by Tainui Stephens at the beautiful Rangiatea Church.
In March this year Lawrence Makoare delivered the keynote address where he shared his story of being “discovered” by Don Selwyn working a “stop-go sign” on a road working gang. To watch Lawrence and fellow Dead Lands actor James Rolleston work magic on the streets of Ōtaki was what the MFF is about.
Filmmakers out in the community enjoying themselves, watching films, hanging at the beach and talking collaborations with other native filmmakers were Sundance alumni from Hawaii and Canada along with New Mexican, Sami and Aboriginal filmmakers. Maori filmmakers were out in force with screenings of feature films including The Dead Lands and The Dark Horse, and short films including some that were subsequently selected by other film festivals. Our rangatahi filmmaking competition had 11 films screened to over 600 very excited school kids.
In all near on 5000 tickets were issued for 120 short films and 21 features and documentaries from around the world as well as workshops and events including the red carpet party at the art deco Civic Theatre where the Modern Māori Quartet brought the entire party to the dance floor.
Film Festival directors, distributors and producers were also at MFF 2015 from Berlinale, imagineNATIVE, Australia and Canada.
In February of this year Māoriland film festival partnered with the Berlinale, Canada Council and others to present the first Native Stand at the European Film Market (EFM) in Berlin. Such was the “buzz” the stand created that MFF has been approached again to partner for the 2016 EFM.
This year I also attended a summit of indigenous film festival directors from around the world in Canada in June and last month’s 16th imagineNATIVE film festival. At both events the discussion centred on how a Native Film Festival Circle can assist filmmakers through screenings, promotion, distribution and networking. According to the United Nations there are more than 370 million indigenous people spread across 70 countries worldwide from the Arctic to the South Pacific. That’s a huge audience!
The rise of indigenous cinema is all around us. Maori filmmakers are focused on making films in a way never seen before. The proliferation of indigenous film festivals is providing exhibition opportunities, with A list festivals led by the Berlinale getting in on the buzz. At imagineNATIVE last month the buzz was more an enjoyable electrical current that swept through all who attended. There were stunning feature films and shorts with much discussion around who we are making films for.
Zacharias Kunuk famously told the New York Times, “We made Atanarjuat for an Inuit audience. I never expected that outside countries would be so interested. It never even crossed my mind.”
To my mind there has never been a more exciting time to be an indigenous filmmaker, to make films for your own people and have them seen around the world!
Top image: Mohawak filmmaker Zoe Hopkins, Sami filmmaker Per Josef, actor Julian Hopkins, Libby Hakaraia and Tainui Stephens
Māoriland launched its film submission process for the 2016 Māoriland Film Festival at the 16th imagineNATIVE Film and Media Arts Festival in Toronto. Submissions close December 11th, 2015. Late submissions ($25 admin fee) will be accepted until January 15, 2016.
Submission details are available at maorilandfilm.co.nz