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Stateside With Rosalea: Hurry! Hurry! Hurry!

Stateside With Rosalea Barker

Hurry! Hurry! Hurry!

Circus Barker for a day, I'm here to tell you not to miss the Inaugural Maori Film Festival in Wairoa on Queen's Birthday Weekend. Given that I never could figure out why Northland didn't have a thriving spaghetti Western film industry up there among the sand dunes, it's no surprise that I'm thrilled to see that at least one other region of the country is defining itself around the film industry.

It's kinda funny to be thinking of things East Coast while I'm sitting here in the Powderface Cafe looking up at all the Fruitvale locals on the BART platform waiting for the train to the Mission District in San Francisco for the Carnaval Parade. Maybe it's the T-shirt proclaiming "Latin Pride" on one of the commuters that makes me think of other cultures' pride.

Or perhaps my reminiscences are brought on by the pohutukawa trees that are in bloom nearby on International Boulevard. They are the first things I see when I raise my blinds in the morning, and remind me of Te Waha o Rerekohu, the largest such tree in the world, which I visited on my trip up the East Coast in 1999.

Here with me as I write, I have the book I bought to read on the plane as I left New Zealand later that same year. Don't Let It Get You is the 'autobiography' of one of the country's most important film makers, John O'Shea. It seemed to me at the time I bought it that, more than any other NZ book, this one represented all the significant events in my life there.

In it is a report that O'Shea wrote for Unesco in 1966. Being invited to present a report at the Sydney conference on Ethnographic Film Making, O'Shea writes in the book, "brought me miserably face-to-face with problems of racial and cultural dominance I had thought I had successfully put behind me, especially with the feature films I had made. The dislike I felt for academic ethnographers was compounded by the disdain with which they asked me to speak on 'the Maori minority in New Zealand'."

In the 1966 report, O'Shea writes: "Outside New Zealand, an abstraction like 'Maori minority' is both an accurate and sensible way of describing the Polynesian people whose ancestors voyaged to and settled in the islands of New Zealand many centuries ago. But to be asked by Unesco to present a report on films about the 'Maori minority' leads a European New Zealander to a central paradox about his own image."

Though Maori people might be in the numerical minority, O'Shea contends in the report, they--and perhaps the landscape--are the major defining characteristic of these islands. Despite accomplishments like those of Hillary, Snell and Rutherford, he continues, European New Zealanders have managed to create a life that "generally so follows the materialist suburban prototype of western civilization that it does not lend itself to symbol making."

This Thursday's opening night gala for Te Ao Mai Nga Whatu Maori, features O'Shea's film Broken Barrier, which he started making in 1950, not as any foray into questions of identity, but because he was fascinated with films and had been asked to make a documentary about "the Maoris, as they were called in those days." Back from WWII, married with two children and working at a research job in War History, O'Shea agreed to do it only if it could be a feature drama and he could co-direct.

Well, if you read this book or go to the gala you'll find out more about how the movie was made in typical low-budget fashion with borrowed and secondhand equipment--one camera allegedly taken from a dead German in the Western Desert. The one-day-only of sound recording, the hairy car rides, the difficulties of getting the film developed and edited are all familiar stories to filmmakers operating with passion that far exceeds their budget.

The National Film Unit refused to allow the Broken Barrier crew to use its facilities because they were making a movie for commercial, not educational, purposes so they had to go to Movietone News in Sydney to get it edited. The world premier of Broken Barrier was held on 10 July 1952. Out of the film's proceeds, O'Shea was able to create Pacific Films, which went on to outlive the National Film Unit.

You simply should not miss this festival. As well as showcasing the local film industry it will feature some of the best films made by indigenous filmmakers from around the world. The website is at

For my part, I promise to get up at 5am on Friday morning (11pm Saturday, NZ time) to put on my soundtrack album of Don't Let It Get You. Just so it doesn't.


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