|WARU l to r Chelsea Winstanley, Katie Wolfe, Briar Grace-Smith, Paula W. Jones, Ainsley Gardiner, Renae Maihi, Casey Kaa, Awanui Simich-Pene (not shown, Josephine Stewart-Te Whiu)|
If you're excited by Ava DuVernay's work, especially her Queen Sugar series, entirely directed by women, and by We Do It Together and its Together Now, seven short films in one (1), you'll want to know about WARU.
Māori women excel in the literary world, as writers of fiction and poetry and as playwrights. They've also made many short films and docos and television programmes. But only two Māori women have directed feature films: Ramai Hayward directed 1972's To Love a Māori, with her husband Rudall, and Merata Mita directed Mauri in 1988. WARU ('Eight'), responds to that history with a powerful, collaborative and change-making intervention.
WARU is an 80-minute feature produced by Kerry Warkia and Kiel McNaughton of Brown Sugar Apple Grunt and now in post-production. It follows the lives of eight women connected by a single event. Shot over eight days, each episode of WARU has a different director and follows a different character in a self-contained 10 minute vignette, told in real time, and shot in a single take.
This weekend, the WARU group presented at Aotearoa New Zealand's annual Big Screen Symposium, an event about screens large and small. From these tweets I learned their presentation was amazing (no surprise!). I'm sad I missed it but will be first in line to buy a ticket when WARU reaches cinemas.
Most intense and powerful session I have ever been in. #waru #BigScreen16 #wahine #maori pic.twitter.com/WfiQjsTYuv— Brenda (@digitalharpy) September 24, 2016
The wahine ataahua of #Waru today were so brave + inspiring. Loved that session so much. @BigScreenSNZ #bss2016— Aidee Walker (@LaydeeAidee) September 24, 2016
Standing ovation at the #BigScreen16 for the WARU wāhine. Photo by Casey Kaa. #WaruFilm @BigScreenSNZ #ManaWāhine 👏🏾 pic.twitter.com/JUAVO6QQZo— Kerry Warkia (@KerryWarkia) September 25, 2016
And the excitement about WARU is even more of a special delight because until now we haven't had a recent collaborative model of women's filmmaking like this here, although there's a small Film Fatales group and there are several groups of women making fictional webseries, some, like WARU, funded by New Zealand on Air.
The nine women of WARU represent just a few of the highly skilled, and experienced Māori women writers and directors available and ready to go global. Look out for their movies over the next few years! Look out too for the television series that I imagine they'll make!
And in other announcements from The Big Screen Symposium, New Zealand On Air is calling for submissions re its new funding strategy. If you want to submit and need more background about New Zealand On Air and gender, just scroll down to 'NZOA' here. (Note, in the year covered by its 2016 diversity report, no Māori woman had directed any television drama.)
And some reported statements from the CEO of the New Zealand Film Commission–
Behind and in front of the camera we want to reflect the contemporary society of Aotearoa - @NZFilmCommissh #BigScreen16— Big Screen Symposium (@BigScreenSNZ) September 25, 2016
Be more adventurous. Take more risks. Make something different. @NZFilmCommissh puts the call out. #BigScreen16— Big Screen Symposium (@BigScreenSNZ) September 25, 2016
Fingers crossed both organisations formulate plans that work well, for Māori women and for a diverse cross-section of all women who live here. I hope they take advice from the Swedish Film Institute's Anna Serner, particularly re targets and dealing with bias, and from Ava DuVernay if she is here to film A Wrinkle in Time and has a moment.
I hope they take Jill Soloway's words to heart, too–
I’ve been dealing with what white cis men have been projecting about their fantasies about how women should behave since I was a child. We've all had to perform within those expectations for access to their tools, money, success. People of color have as well, of course. Trans people have especially, forcibly, violently been expected to conform to cis males' ideas about life—often by penalty of death if they don't stay under that radar.'Step away from the steering wheel' is an excellent suggestion? Those who do will be pleasantly surprised, I reckon.
Until trans people have more narrative representation, until women have more representation, until people of color have more representation, we absolutely have to be asking people of privilege—especially white cis men — to curtail their desire to project their notions of Otherness onto the characters they create and, instead, provide opportunities to trans, queer, female, Black artists and simply step away from the steering wheel.
(1) Together Now is seven short films in one, each pairing a woman director with a prominent actress. The directors who have signed on include Robin Wright, Catherine Hardwicke, Katia Lund (City of God, All the Invisible Children ), Patricia Riggen (The 33), Haifaa al Mansour (Wadjda), Malgorzata Szumowska (Elles) and Melina Matsoukas (Beyonce’s Formation).