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Nga Aho Whakaari: ‘Writing the Future’

‘Writing the Future’
Three of the best talk about the future of Maori screenwriting

The recent Nga Aho Whakaari conference in March provided the venue for an intimate discussion on Maori screen writing in New Zealand. Script to Screen listened in as a panel of three well known Maori writers discussed the potential for the craft of screenwriting to shape the future of Maori culture. Award-winning writer Briar Grace-Smith, Shortland Street’s Victor Rodger and cultural consultant Brad Haami joined guest MC writer/director Poata Eruera to explore what ‘Writing the Future’ means to them.

Briar believed ‘writing the future’ for Maori means writing more Maori stories and placing new images of the Maori culture within that writing. She also felt writers often fall into the trap of the ‘tried and tested’ stereotype of Maori - a trap to be avoided at all costs.

Victor said that cultures are often not consulted or included with the production of films being made about them and it was vital that the right Maori teams be created for projects. “When I think of writing the future, I think of writing in a big team with the right people telling the stories.”

Brad agreed, saying, “Maori writers need to go to a level of storytelling that people haven’t gone to.” He cited a wonderful example of this with his last major production, South Pacific Picture’s The Man Who Lost His Head, a UK/New Zealand co-production aired on the BBC. Prior to filming, SPP insisted on bringing the British writer out to New Zealand so he could have a first hand experience with Maori culture. The writer stayed on a marae for a few weeks and the experience completely opened his eyes. The show rated very highly in the UK, much to the surprise of TVNZ who did not think a UK audience would enjoy the Maori comedy/drama. This prompted Poata to comment on the importance of “giving your writing more of a Maori voice.”

Poata opened the discussion up to the audience and a Maori writer asked if the panel agreed that writers and producers are being subtly influenced by broadcasters to write stories that follow a Maori ideal. Victor said, “That’s the reality of what you’re dealing with - people with a limited frame of reference” adding that it is up to the individual writer to decide whether or not to give the people in power what they want.

Poata agreed that, “… the ‘gatekeepers’ are a difficult thing for writers, but rejection is something that toughens you and motivates you to keep trying.”

Another audience member believed many of the Maori stories seen are ones of struggle, such as Once Were Warriors. She felt ‘writing the future’ for Maori should include visualising Maori in a fully functioning society and such images could potentially lead to a positive self fulfilling prophecy.

A budding writer asked the panel how to write with a Maori voice. Briar advised, “You have to believe in yourself as a Maori and write from what you know.” She encouraged writers to draw upon the knowledge of elders within the Maori community for specific consultation to help clarify particular subjects.

Poata asked Brad if there was much consultation going on in the industry. Brad believed there could be more as consultation is a very important factor of telling Maori stories. He urged writers to consult the wisdom of elders and to conduct much independent research. “There is a Maori way of thinking that you have to tap into,” he said. Brad stressed the importance of following protocols and specific processes to avoid causing offence. Nga Aho Whakaari has produced a publication on Maori protocol for use in the film and television industry.

In conclusion, the panel unanimously agreed with Poata that writers “… should write as a Maori of the time.”


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