Merata: How Mum Decolonised the Screen

In Cinemas Now

Merata Mita, landmark Māori filmmaker behind Patu! and Mauri, is honoured in this personal portrait from her son Heperi. The world's first indigenous woman to direct a feature film, Merata was also a fearless documentarian and outspoken activist—and for many years a solo mum bringing up her kids. Heperi revisits her films and whānau to look back on Merata's life and her impact on those around her.

"By the time the pioneering indigenous filmmaker and activist Merata Mita died suddenly in 2010, she had packed an extraordinary amount of action into her 68 years. If her youngest son Heperi Mita became a film archivist and a filmmaker in order to discover the stories she did not live to tell him, then we in Aotearoa have something new to thank her for. His first film is a remarkable accomplishment, a compelling Great Woman portrait that speaks intimately from personal experience.

"He has an abundant archive of film and TV appearances to draw on, beginning with his mother’s mesmerising testimony as a Māori woman bringing up children alone in the 1977 TV documentary Māori Women in a Pākehā World. By 1979 she was making landmark documentaries herself, most notably Bastion Point: Day 507 (1980) and Patu! (1983) which rattled Kiwi complacency by so clearly identifying the violation of Māori rights – the latter film explicitly tying New Zealand’s record to apartheid in South Africa. In 1988 her film Mauri, deftly quoted in this one, was the first feature written and directed by a Māori woman." (New Zealand International Film Festival)

Trailers

Directed by

Documentary, Festival & Independent

95mins

Rating: Exempt

English and Māori with English subtitles

New Zealand

Much more than just a historical document of Aotearoa cinema—which alone would still be enough to justify it as essential viewing—Heperi Mita’s documentary about Merata Mita, his mother and a pioneering Māori filmmaker, sees film as indivisible from whānau. As he’s noted, filmmaking seemed like a natural part of Merata’s life and, as his doco details, his mother’s work swept her tamariki up in it. Whether seen onscreen, forming memories on film sets, or experiencing the ramifications of Merata’s status quo-challenging films on Bastion Point or the Springbok Tour, her work informed many facets of her children’s upbringing. In her absence, Merata Mita’s strong spirit on screen or behind the camera lives on, something Heperi engages with here as director, archivist and son, to share a deepened understanding of his departed mother with others, and along the way explore new dimensions to his relationships with his siblings.

The results are as deeply personal as they sound, an exploration of family alongside a celebration of creativity, passion, and uniqueness. How Mum Decolonised the Screen allows Heperi to travel back in time to before his birth, exploring the deprivation and difficulty he wasn’t around to experience, charting his mother’s development into a filmmaker, and using her films to illustrate a social context that is at times difficult to fathom from a 21st-century perspective. The baton-wielding cops she captured welcomely feel somewhat alien, even if instances of unashamed Pākehā racism may not.

The more personal the film gets, the more universal it becomes. Less academic, perhaps, it still celebrates the filmmaking talent of the first indigenous woman to direct a feature film, but doesn’t shy from the damage done along the way. Just as their mother would bravely discuss her decision to have an abortion, a taboo topic for 1977, on camera in TV documentary Māori Women in a Pākehā World, so too do her children revisit the difficulties of their past—most movingly, in recounting struggles against poverty and abuses of authority.

Along the way, of course, is Merata’s work, and what an advertisement for further exploration of her filmmaking this documentary is. Just as her family, philosophy, and day-to-day life undoubtedly informed her films, Heperi Mita’s own perspective lends something extra to his mother’s work here, further cementing the inseparability of life experiences—both his and hers—from what will hopefully be a long-lasting film presence that can inform and inspire the present and future.

Stuff.co.nz (Graeme Tuckett)

press

A terrific achievement.

Hollywood Reporter

press

A portrait of an icon of Indigenous cinema as directed by her son.

RogerEbert.com (Nick Allen)

press

As Miti successfully makes us appreciate his mother's passions and progress, it's strange to see something so personal packaged like a lecture.

Film Threat

press

Though Merata never shies away from the more uncomfortable realities of its subject's life - broken marriages, poverty, clashes with the authorities, and so on - Hepi's love and respect for his mum still resonates through nearly every frame.