Photo: Taika Waititi
From the very beginning of his career, New Zealand director and actor Taika Waititi has always celebrated his heritage. His first wildly successful production, Two Cars, One Night, was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film in 2004. The short film focuses on two young boys and a young girl who meet in a parking lot and eventually develop a friendship. The dramatic comedy is inseparably rooted in its setting of Te Kaha, a small community in New Zealand, and heavily features the town pub. This celebration of his cultural origins, and the pride that flows forth from every pore when Waititi discusses his homeland, has followed the aspiring young filmmaker straight into his present-day fame.
Since his early successes such as Eagle vs Shark and What We Do in the Shadows, Taika Waititi has skyrocketed in popularity. This great rise in notoriety can be attributed, in no small part, to his Marvel Cinematic Universe installment Thor: Ragnarok. Despite existing as one part of a monstrously large franchise, Ragnarok was able to successfully stand out from the pack due to Waititi’s signature wit, creativity and surprisingly honest dramatic moments. With last year’s award-winning comedy/drama Jojo Rabbit, and another Marvel flick on the horizon with Thor: Love and Thunder, it’s clear that Waititi’s future in the entertainment industry is looking exceedingly bright and hopeful.
Taika Waititi’s Love for Indigenous People
However, despite marching ahead towards tomorrow, Waititi also refuses to forget his roots, and his passion for representing New Zealand through film is still alive and well. Piki Films, the film distribution company which was co-founded by Waititi and has also produced a number of his past films, has committed to representing an underrepresented minority. The distribution company has produced many of New Zealand’s most lucrative international hits, such as The Breaker Uppers and Taika Waititi’s films Hunt For the Wilderpeople and Jojo Rabbit. Now, ScreenDaily reports that a new initiative being put into motion by Piki Films plans to focus on New Zealand’s indigenous peoples. Three exciting new projects, two films and one television series, will be helmed by Māori writers and will focus specifically on themes such as cultural degradation and colonization.
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One of these new projects will be a film adaptation of the novel The Imaginary Lives of James Poneke, written by Tina Makereti. The novel focuses on a young Māori orphan who is invited to London to be a part of an exhibit featuring indigenous peoples and their behavior. While initially amazed by the great city, Poneke is soon overcome by a sense of both disgust and isolation. The novel focuses on themes such as imperialism, morality and the loss of individual culture in the modern world.
Taika Waititi and Piki Film’s Long List of Projects
Another of Piki Films’ new projects is a film adaptation of Down the Rabbit Hole, a stand-up comedy routine by New Zealand comedian Angella Dravid. According to Beat, the routine tells a deeply personal story for Dravid, detailing an event in which she ran away from home to marry an older man and then wound up in prison in the United Kingdom. Dravid explained, “It seems to be that personal stories and very deep stories about yourself seem to be appreciated nowadays, so I felt like this could be the right story to tell at the right time.” The film adaptation will be written by both Dravid and Briar Grace-Smith, a screenwriter who also hails from New Zealand. Grace-Smith was previously involved with Waru, a collection of eight short films each written and directed by female Māori filmmakers.
The third project, a television series titled Better The Blood, is perhaps the project most heavily focused on the theme of colonization. The crime thriller series will reportedly focus on a female Māori detective who is tasked with hunting down a serial killer. The serial killer is indigenous, and his crimes are intended as revenge for the atrocities committed against indigenous Māori by their colonizers. The show is being created by Michael Bennet and Jane Holland, an New Zealand writer/director duo whose previous collaboration was the 2018 television film In Dark Places. The film won Bennet, a Māori, an award for Best Director at last year’s New Zealand TV Awards. About Better the Blood, Bennet said, “This story allows us to explore the long-term scars of our brutal colonial history in the context of a visceral and popular genre.”
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Piki Films’ producer Morgan Waru states that these projects are intended to give Māori creators the limelight, explaining, “We aim to have indigenous voices at the centre of the creative team.” The majority of the projects will be shot at home in New Zealand, and casting is intended to be as authentic and representative of the material as possible.
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