Filmmakers in attendance.
Contributing to a greater breadth of media representation in indigenous cinema and recouping suppressed histories within New Zealand’s film culture, the inimitable Maori filmmaker, indigenous rights activist, educator and feminist Merata Mita gets her long overdue close-up in this critical and celebratory portrait by her youngest son and film archivist-turned documentarian Heperi Mita.
Through the cooperation of the NZ Film Commission and Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision, New Zealand’s national film and sound archive, where Mita worked in helping to accession and evaluate film and media objects from his mother’s film collection, MERATA was born not in flames so much as from the imperative to preserve and disseminate the life and work of a key cultural and political figure in NZ history. It is, however, first and foremost, a son’s tribute to his mother, a declaration of love beyond mortal bounds. What better means to accomplish such as a task than through filmmaking, that populist and inclusive art form, something Merata herself took up in her late 30s as a single mother of five, as another outlet through which she could help affect social change and document the historical record from the margins.
Growing more disenchanted by what she saw of Maori and indigenous images on the mainstream screen and galvanized by the activist organization Ngā Tamatoa (Young Warriors), she pioneered the Maori documentary film movement with landmark works, Bastion Point: Day 507 (1978), which chronicled police action against protestors defending the takeover of traditional Maori land, and Patu! (1983), which captured footage of anti-apartheid groups’ run-in with the law during South Africa’s rugby tour in 1981. She became the first Maori woman to direct a feature film, Mauri (1988), which dramatized a small town’s struggles transitioning into modernity. Unfairly accused of being a political firebrand for her social justice investments, Mita bravely spoke out in the mainstream press about her persecution and her fears regarding her family’s safety in her native land.
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s up till the early 1990s, she worked tirelessly as a non-fiction storyteller and community organizer. Before her premature passing in 2010, aged 68, she had relocated to Hawaii and Los Angeles, where she taught at university, helped found the indigenous film program at Sundance, and became mentor to and a producer for next gen Maori and indigenous filmmakers including Taika Waititi’s early feature, Boy (2010) and Ava DuVernay, whose distribution company, ARRAY, is overseeing this film’s circulation. In our current era where intersectional power dynamics of race, gender, and nationalism and anxieties over migration and immigration in postcolonial nation-states loom over us in daily life, Merata’s extraordinary example remains aspirational to us all. —Lindy Leong
Co-presented with Community Partners: Asian American Journalists Association – Los Angeles (AAJA – LA), Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA)
Director, Screenwriter: Heperi Mita
Executive Producer: Cliff Curtis
Creative Producer: Te Arepa Kahi
Producer: Chelsea Winstanley
Cinematographer: Mike Jonathon
Editor: Te Rurehe Paki
Consulting Editor: Annie Collins