An open letter to James Cameron
“Any direct experience that I have with indigenous peoples and their plights may feed into the nature of the story I choose to tell. In fact, it almost certainly will”
A quote attributed to Canadian born multi millionaire Hollywood director James Cameron. The man behind the blockbuster Titanic and the Avatar franchise, as well as a slew of other movie hits.
5 years ago when his plans to buy a large rural holding in Masterton were revealed he also told the NZ Herald he would do his bit to “help foster and grow” the New Zealand film community.
5 years on, this is an open letter to James Cameron.
Tēnā koe James,
In some quarters you are described as a hero for the environment and for indigenous peoples, especially those of the Amazon, whom you have publicly supported in their efforts to save their lands, culture and language.
You were an outspoken supporter of the first Māori language film ever to gain an international film festival release (The Dead Lands, Toronto Film Festival, 2014).
You have been quoted as saying, “Obviously Peter Jackson keeps the village fed when he’s making films but I don’t think the nation should look to him for total dependence so I’m going to do my part to help foster and grow the New Zealand film community.’’
We would not presume to know if you are a man of your word. We hope that many New Zealanders benefit directly or indirectly from your filmmaking and the influence you have in Hollywood. We hope that by now you are aware of our culture. In the New Zealand film community the culture is pretty much that if you treat us right, then we will go the extra mile. There is also the culture of the indigenous people of this country Aotearoa. We Māori have stories to tell – lots of them.
Everyone here knows that more often than not it is those films with Māori creatives or Māori stories that have succeeded domestically and travelled well. Films like Utu, The Piano, Once Were Warriors, Whalerider, Boy, What We Do In The Shadows, The Dead Lands, The Dark Horse and more recently Born to Dance and Hunt for the Wilderpeople – these films please the critics, and do the business.
What is perhaps not evident to many is that Māori are also part of an Indigenous film circle that stretches around the globe We are connected through film.
You may not yet know of New Zealand’s annual International Indigenous Film Festival, Māoriland Film Festival, held in the coastal town of Ōtaki. If it was possible to drive through the Tararua Ranges from your home in Masterton, it would be literally on your doorstep.
From 23-27th March indigenous filmmakers from around the world and filmmakers and supporters from Aotearoa will converge in Ōtaki to watch 130 feature films, short films and documentaries. We have a full programme of craft workshops from acting to writing. We have special programmes of films for schools. Last year these screenings were packed with kids from as far south as Wellington and as far north as Taupo. This year we have interest from schools even further afield. The energy of having 300 plus kids in an old theatre watching films together – laughing, crying, cheering and stamping their feet is what makes all the hard slog to put the festival together worth it.
There is also the E Tu Whānau Rangatahi film screening and awards. This is a youth filmmaking competition that schools are also very enthusiastic about. Last year we had 11 films in the finals and these were screened to 600 children at our largest venue. Three of of the winning filmmakers went on to win a prize at a nationwide schools competition late last year.
We run Māoriland as volunteers. We have built it film by film in a small community. In the process everyone acquires and grows their film literacy. We can see the social and economic impact to our community in the three short years of running the festival.
Many communities like Ōtaki do not have ready access to movie theatres, and a film festival is a chance to watch films together. Despite the many screens available to everyone today, it’s the big ones that count. When people gather as one, in the dark to share a story, it’s an almost primal form of communication.
We expect over 7000 people to attend the festival later this month. They will be shown films from filmmakers who have travelled across the globe to be in our quintessential NZ small town. We screen on our marae, at historic Rangiatea Church, in a award winning multi million dollar stadium, in a faded glory two storey theatre and at our war memorial hall. We also have two free outdoor screenings at the only racecourse in the world to be owned by Māori.
The long game is to serve a worldwide audience of hundreds of millions of indigenous citizens, young and old, in the places where they gather. Māori filmmakers are regarded as pioneers in the creation of successful indigenous film stories. We are now investigating new ways to get our films seen, to satisfy audiences, and inspire the creation of new work.
We are seeking partnership from people who have resources to share, and who nurture a thoughtful approach to protecting the mana and value of film in our New Zealand lives – and who recognise the unique indigenous route to our shared humanity. One that we can travel together.