Waru

Waru is a film which I tried to get to see at TIFF in 2017, but it was sold out. It doesn’t seem to have been released outside of festivals. It’s been on my watchlist but ‘unavailable’ on Amazon Prime for almost a year. I wondered if I would ever get to see it.

And so god bless HOME, my local independent cinema and spiritual home, for their year-long programme of Women in Global Cinema in 2019. Waru was screening once, and once only, on a bitterly cold January evening, and I was not going to miss it.

It is such a powerful film. 8 different female directors have each created a 10 minute short film featuring female characters, each of which has a connection to the funeral of a young boy. The shorts weave together to allow us to view the death and its impact through the eyes of the immediate family, the community and the media.

The women at the centre of the 8 scenes are all incredible characters. All are struggling in some way with their position in society, some maintaining a steely exterior to cover up their internal emotions, others succumbing to desperate measures to cope. But all are real characters in recognisable situations, which really ensures that the message is brought home.

In fact, it’s worth mentioning that each short is filmed in one long take, with the camera swirling around the central female, following her in and out of her car, around the corridors of her work, or through the rooms of her home so that the audience is completely immersed in her experiences and emotions. It’s incredibly well done and I would be hard pushed to pick out a weak link, unusual for a portmanteau film.

It’s an excoriating view of New Zealand’s failure to address issues of child abuse, and also highlights racism and inequality; its themes are weighty, but the film doesn’t wring its hands over the issues. Instead it is (and indeed it ends with) a call to action to actually do something to reduce the levels of abuse.

If you ever do get a chance to see this, please invest 86 minutes of your time. It’s worth it.

The Dead Lands

My research tells me there are few feature films entirely in Māori, and I certainly haven’t seen any of them before now, so this was fascinating.

At its heart is the story of a young man seeking revenge on a much more skilful and brutal warrior after some horrible things happen to his extended family on their own land. Will he perpetuate the deeds of the past? Will he do the honourable thing? How will he gain the skills and knowledge needed to carry out either? Then there are the spiritual aspects – speaking to and seeking guidance from deceased ancestors; what’s honourable and what’s not. And also there are some (at times gory) fight scenes, showcasing the skills of the actors and the almost balletic moves of the warriors in action – different in style from other ‘martial arts’ films.

This is one of those films where I not only enjoyed the entertainment, but also (taking for granted that the historical representation is accurate) learned about the culture and history of the people at that point in time.