NZ short film celebrating Māori dads has North American premiere

By Piripi Taylor

The NZ short film Ani, which celebrates Māori dads, had its North American premiere at the 44th Toronto International Film Festival tonight.

From Berlin to Wairoa, and now to what is regarded as the 'festival of festivals' for filmmakers to launch their careers and premiere their new work, director Josephine Stewart-Te Whiu is overwhelmed at the opportunity.

"It's pretty out of it and really humbling," she says. "I think there's 35 short films from around the world internationally that got selected to screen. We weren't really expecting it, but here I am."

The film titled Ani, played by a very talented Isabella Evans and starring Modern Māori Quartet member Maaka Pōhatu, is a labour of love for Stewart-Te Whiu, who was one of nine contributing female writers and directors of the innovative Māori film Waru. The short film is based around her own childhood after her parent's separation and is a tribute to her father. 

"Really frustrated with how Māori were represented in a lot of our cinema, especially men. So I made a little piece that was anti that and really flipped the script on how people view our men."

The film was made with the initial support of $10, 000 by the national body for Māori in screen production Ngā Aho Whakaari, and has since been supported by the NZ Film Commission after its selection to the Berlinale in February.  

"The great thing about Ngā Aho Whakaari is they sort of left me to it, like I felt they really trusted me to explore my vision and use my voice and they didn't micro-manage at all," says Stewart-Te Whiu. "I think that trust was essential for me to be able to trust myself." 

As part of the Short Cuts Programme this year, the 35-year-old director is looking forward to all the benefits that attending the festival brings.

"To make some relationships with other distributors and people who make films internationally. When you make relationships like that then you kind of get more opportunities to keep telling your stories and that's the whole idea. I want to be able to tell my stories without being restrained."

There is also the hope that the film will be selected for the annual imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival that celebrates its 20th anniversary in Toronto next month.

"I hope that if it spreads at imagineNATIVE, they really love it. It's kind of the communities it's made for to be honest, about empowering indigenous communities." 

Back home, work continues on two more short films and a feature film that she hopes will also eventually screen here in the future.