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Celebrating Trailblazing Filmmaker Merata Mita

Merata Mita (Ngāti Pikiao, Ngāi Te Rangi) helped pave the way for indigenous storytelling both in Aotearoa and abroad. Through groundbreaking films and documentaries — a number created during some of the most divisive moments in Aotearoa New Zealand history — her legacy continues to inspire indigenous filmmakers around the world.
My perspective encourages people to look at themselves and examine the ground they stand on.” – Merata Mita
The collection of screen taonga showcases over 35 titles and includes a variety of Mita’s projects, some of which have not been publicly available to view since their initial broadcast. Alongside documentaries, interviews, short films and music videos sit backgrounders from producer, director and presenter Tainui Stephens (Te Rarawa), son and documentarian Heperi Mita (Ngāti Pikiao, Ngāi Te Rangi), and producer and director Ainsley Gardiner (Te-Whānau a Apanui, Ngāti Pikiao, Ngāti Awa).
Tainui Stephens contextualises Merata Mita’s contribution to Māori and indigenous filmmaking: “We have many Māori pioneers in film. In every era, someone is doing something for the first time, and forging a new pathway. But there are only three eponymous ancestors in our film whakapapa — three rangatira who first made Māori film happen. Despite the hostile era in which they lived, Barry Barclay, Don Selwyn and Merata Mita became giants. Their intelligence, savvy and bravery reflected their need to make films that make us better people. They created a template for indigenous screen storytelling.”
Heperi Mita, director of the documentary Merata: How Mum Decolonised the Screen, provides further context to the collection: “When it comes to releasing a collection of Merata Mita’s works, life and art are intertwined. Her political and personal struggles manifest not only within the content she made, but in the very process of compiling her films to make them publicly accessible.”
Many of Merata’s documentaries can be viewed in full within the collection, including the new digitally-preserved version of landmark Springbok tour documentary Patu!. Mita visits East Coast Rastafarians, 10 years after the notorious conflict in Ruatoria in the Inside New Zealand documentary Dread. The 1979 visit by a black London theatre group is followed in Keskidee Aroha. Hirini Melbourne (ONZM) and ethnologist Te Warena Taua trace the history of pahū (drum) in Te Pahū, while artist Ralph Hotere goes under the microscope in Hotere. Mita’s final documentary Saving Grace - Te Whakarauora Tangata also joins the collection in its entirety. Mita passed away suddenly while delivering a rough cut of this documentary to Māori Television on 31 May 2010.
Merata Mita also appears in front of the lens through a variety of factual content. In Women – Māori Women in a Pākehā World from 1977, Merata talks candidly about her personal experiences as a wahine Māori. Close Up - Patu: Completing the Picture looks behind the scenes to reveal the toll that making Patu! took on Merata and her whānau. A selection of Koha episodes captures the making of Mauri, and expands on Mita’s impact on Māori cinema. Rangatira: Merata Mita – Making Waves looks at Mita’s uncompromising approach to the craft, while in an excerpt from Kete Aronui, Merata Mita and protest leader Joe Hawke reveal how the occupation of Bastion Point shaped Mita’s concerns as a filmmaker. Loose Enz – The Protestors and Utu see Merata take on rare dramatic roles.
Tributes to Merata Mita also form part of the collection. In an excerpt from Good Morning, film editor Annie Collins discusses Mita’s unwavering passion and commitment to indigenous filmmaking. In a special Marae excerpt, we hear about Mita’s legacy as a mentor in Aotearoa with Ngā Aho Whakaari and offshore as part of the Sundance Institute in the United States.
In her backgrounder to the collection, producer and director Ainslie Gardiner reinforces Mita’s role as an inspirational mentor:  “I often play WWMMD— What Would Merata Mita Do — when making tough decisions in my career. I'm acutely aware that I almost never can do what she would do; I wasn't forged in the same fire… She taught me that the best thing I could do, for myself, for my family and for te ao Māori, was to be successful in our industry. This was one promise I could keep for her.”

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