by NEVIL GIBSON
Last year’s hiatus of local films is about to end. Their absence was a huge contrast to 2014 when cinemagoers bought $2 million worth of tickets to two Kiwi-made films, What We Do in the Shadows and The Dark Horse, as well put a third, The Dead Lands, well above the million-dollar mark.
That took the box office takings for taxpayer supported films to a record $6.5 million for some 10 features that gained full cinema showings.
Transmission Films, the New Zealand subsidiary of an Australian company that handles many Kiwi films, says an important feature of 2014 was that the popularity of local productions is catching.
“Once these films get on a roll, it benefits all distributors,” general manager Michael Eldred says.
This year, Mr Eldred adds, the lineup is looking as good as 2014, with all of the directors and producers involved in the earlier mentioned films back with new ones.
These include producer Leanne Pooly (Beyond the Edge) with 25 April, an animated feature; and new films from The Orator’s Tuse Tamasese, The Dead Lands’ Toa Fraser (6 Days and Welcome to the Thrill) and Taika Waititi’s Hunt for the Wilderpeople, which was well received at the Robert Redfordfounded Sundance festival in Utah.
That brings me to Mahana (Entertainment One-NZ Film Commission), the first of this year’s releases. Director Lee Tamahori’s first feature, Once Were Warriors (1994), launched him on an international career that has included one James Bond film (Die Another Day in 2002) and several other action-oriented big-budget Hollywood productions.
Mahana teams him up with Warriors producer Robin Scholes and Whale Rider author Witi Ihimaera, whose novel Bulibasha provides the storyline about rivalry among Maori family shearing gangs in the Gisborne area in the 1960s. (Overseas, the film is known as The Patriarch.)
Temuera Morrison anchors the large cast as Tamihana Mahana, who finds his authority is being undermined by his failing health, dictatorial edicts that bring reaction from within the family and the potential loss of shearing contracts to the head of the rival Poata family (Jim Moriarty).
A teacher’s quote from George Bernard Shaw that a family is a tyranny ruled over by its weakest member sparks resistance by teenaged grandson Simeon (Akuhata Keefe), and then his father Joshua (Regan Taylor).
They are forced from the Mahanas’ compound but eventually rebuild their lives.
Complicating this is the background of the grandmother Ramona (Nancy Brunning), who provides the emotional heart of the story and climax.
Brunning is no stranger to such roles and her brooding presence contrasts with Morrison’s strong performance as a man losing his grip on power and life.
Alongside these veterans, Keefe follows several other remarkable acting debuts, such as those of Keisha Castle-Hughes (Whale Rider), James Rolleston (Boy) and James Dennison (Shopping).
Keefe was a pupil at Tolaga Bay School before being cast. The landscapes will tempt many and Ginny Loane’s cinematography will not disappoint. Nor will other aspects of this impressive production.
Rating: Mature audiences (sexual references and content that may disturb); 102 minutes.
by NEVIL GIBSON