Aspen Filmfest: ‘Waru’
October 7, 2017
Eight women directors from New Zealand offer perspectives on the death of a young boy in "Waru," which screens Sunday evening at Aspen Filmfest.
The innovative film, by and about Maori women, aims to shine a light on child abuse in the Maori community. The rates of abuse are alarming, said "Waru" co-producer Kerry Warkia, and the reasons complex.
"More often than not it's Maori women who are being vilified," Warkia said via email. "We wanted to contribute to the conversation from a female Maori perspective."
She and producing partner Kiel McNaughton put out a call for female Maori filmmakers in New Zealand to tell the story and received 50 responses. The resulting interwoven anthology is a showcase for new directors that also embraces the complexity of a sensitive issue.
"The central question was, 'If it takes a village to raise a child, does it also take a village to destroy one?'" Warkia said. "'Waru' is a film about hope and about individual and community responsibility."
Each of the eight chapters in "Waru" is 10 minutes long. Each has at its center a Maori woman reacting to the death of Waru. Each is told with a single, real-time shot. And each director had just one day to film. Placing these creative constraints on the filmmakers helped the producers make a cohesive film and make a statement about Maori women uniting to address child abuse.
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"The audience becomes aware that these stories are all interwoven but are being told by different filmmakers," Warkia said, "and the hope is that this elevates the feeling that this film about a community has been created by a community."
Aspen Filmfest director of programming Jane Schoettle saw the film at the Toronto International Film Festival and was blown away by its emotional power and technical achievement.
"Not only is it the first film made by Maori women in over 30 years, but also the strict parameters created around the filming are amazing," Schoettle said.
You read that first part right: it's been more than three decades since a feature film made by a Maori woman — Mereta Mita's "Mauri" — was released in theaters. While male Maori directors such as Taika Waititi ("Hunt for the Wilderpeople") and Lee Tamahori ("Once Were Warriors") have risen to international prominence, Maori women haven't had opportunities behind the camera.
"We look forward to that changing," Warkia said.
"Waru," Warkia and McNaughton believe, might be a catalyst for its directors to emerge and for other Maori women to begin telling stories as filmmakers.
"We hope that the directors talents will be recognized and that they will go on to bigger and better things," Warkia said. "But we also hope that filmmakers are buoyed by the innovation and success of projects like 'Waru' and create opportunities for themselves also."
The film drew acclaim in Toronto and at the New Zealand International Film Festival and opens later this month in New Zealand, but it has yet to secure a release in the U.S. So Sunday's screening in Aspen will likely be a rare opportunity to see it on the big screen in America.