Maori Women Tell Their Stories in Toronto Festival’s ‘Waru’

Told from the perspectives of nine female filmmakers, “Waru” is the first feature film from New Zealand to be made by Maori women since Mereta Mita’s “Mauri,” almost 30 years ago. It premieres in the Discovery section of the Toronto Intl. Film Festival.

“Waru” — about the pain of a young boy’s death in a tight-knit Maori community — shines a provocative light on what producer Kerry Warkia calls her country’s “alarming rates of child abuse.”

Pic consists of eight vignettes shot over the course of eight days, woven together to provide an intimate portrait of a grieving community forced to confront its own shame, guilt and culpability in the tragedy, while also offering a complex tale of pride and resilience.

“In New Zealand we’re told it’s a Maori problem, and when a child is killed the mother is always vilified,” says Warkia. “We felt it was time to hear from Maori women about this issue.”

The film’s innovative structure was the result of a collaboration between filmmakers Briar Grace-Smith, Ainsley Gardiner, Renae Maihi, Casey Kaa, Awanui Simich-Pene, Josephine Stewart-Te Whiu, Chelsea Cohen, Katie Wolfe and Paula Jones.

The partnership offered the filmmakers “the freedom to be honest and collaborative within a safe, creative framework,” says Warkia.

“Waru” is the latest addition to a small but growing canon of Maori films, including recent fest selections like “The Patriarch,” by Lee Tamahori (“Once Were Warriors”), which premiered in Berlin, and James Napier Robinson’s “The Dark Horse,” which bowed in Toronto.

Warkia acknowledges “a resurgence in the last few years of Kiwi filmmakers telling stories that shine a light on certain aspects of Maori culture.” However, she adds, “Female Maori voices need to be heard in order to have a true representation of our culture and society.”

 

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