“Ka Whawhai Tonu”, New Zealand’s First Māori-Led Historical Epic

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Ka Whawhai Tonu
© Locomotive Entertainment

History is often told from the victor’s perspective, but New Zealand is about to change that narrative with its first-ever Māori-centric historical action-adventure drama, “Ka Whawhai Tonu.” The film, which has been largely clandestine until now, is a ground-breaking effort to bring the indigenous people’s perspective to the global audience. This endeavor is a courageous leap towards inclusivity and diversity in the realm of cinematic storytelling.

Ka Whawhai Tonu” is set in the heart of Aotearoa (the Māori name for New Zealand) in the year 1864. It recounts the tale of a critical battle during the country’s first land wars – a fierce face-off between Māori and the colonial forces. Narrated through the eyes of two young teenagers, the film delves into their struggle for survival amidst the turmoil of war and their quest for self-determination. This narrative of unyielding courage and resilience is a first for the Māori people, and it is told in their native language, Te Reo Māori.

Screenwriter Tim Worrall, of Tūhoe descent, expressed his sentiment about the project, saying, “It has been a great privilege to be part of telling this story to honor our courageous ancestors who fought and died to ensure that we survived.

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Filmed on location in New Zealand, the movie features renowned actors Temuera Morrison, Cliff Curtis, and Jason Flemyng, alongside promising newcomers Paku Fernandez and Hinerangi Harawira-Nicholas. The film is directed by Mike Jonathan and produced by Piripi Curtis and Toby Parkinson.

Producer Parkinson shared his enthusiasm, stating, “This is one of the most important events in Aotearoa/New Zealand history and I am so proud of our team and excited to bring this story to the big screen. This is a story told for the first time from an indigenous point of view and will change the way we view history.

This historic project has been funded by the New Zealand Film Commission’s He Pounamu Te Reo Māori Feature Fund Initiative, New Zealand on Air, and Te Māngai Pāho. The initiative aims to support feature films in Te Reo Māori, showcasing the richness and diversity of New Zealand’s indigenous culture. Worrall received additional support from the Sundance Native Lab. The film will be distributed in Australia and New Zealand by Transmission, while Locomotive Entertainment will manage global sales.

Ka Whawhai Tonu” is slated for a 2024 release, marking 160 years since the iconic declaration by indigenous chief Rewi Maniapoto, who, refusing to surrender, proclaimed, “E hoa, ka whawhai tonu mātou, Āke! Āke! Āke!” (“Friend, we will fight on forever, forever and forever!“). His words continue to resonate today, echoing the ongoing calls for Māori sovereignty.

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