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New Zealand Iconic Movies

In this area of we will put together New Zealand movies that we think are icons of NZ. Our definition of an icon is a movie that is famous in New Zealand and should be known in the rest of the world. Some movies you will know others you may not (but should), but if you mention any of these movies to a New Zealander they will know what you are talking about, from Once Were Warriors to Whale Rider.


Once Were Warriors is a powerful and deeply affecting story of a contemporary Maori family in urban New Zealand. This debut film by Lee Tamahori has become a tremendous success in its native New Zealand, the highest-grossing film in the country's history, surpassing The Piano and Jurassic Park.
Beth Heke (Rena Owen) is a feisty, beautiful mother of five who, after eighteen years of marriage, is still deeply in love with her volatile husband Jake (Temuera Morrison ). Jake is a muscular, handsome man who exudes an explosive sexual energy; it is easy to see why Beth finds him hard to resist.
Jake spends most of his time at the local pub, guzzling beer and proving his masculinity with his fists. If Beth dares to question or challenge him, her answer often comes in a similarly violent form. But Beth is a survivor; it will take more than a few knocks to conquer her spirit. In spite of his violence, Beth is still in love with her husband, but is losing daily battles against the violent forces in and outside her home that desperately threaten to pull her family apart.
Although one son has joined a gang and another has been taken by the state to a home for delinquent boys, her beautiful teenage daughter Grace is still untouched. She is a thoughtful girl and a gifted writer who embodies Beth's own hopes for a brighter future. Grace's special gifts set her apart from her tough, urban surroundings and make her the most vulnerable member of the family. What happens to Grace changes the family's life forever and forces Beth to draw on her own Maori roots and personal strength to courageously turn adversity into triumph and create new hope for her own and her family's survival.

Production Notes
Although Communicado is New Zealand's largest independent production house, Once Were Warriors is its first feature film. After five years of television and video production, they knew that Alan Duff's Once Were Warriors, a highly controversial and bestselling novel in New Zealand, was exactly the type of story they wanted to make their big screen debut.
Contrasting sharply with what they considered the usual historic and polite New Zealand film norm, Once Were Warriors is contemporary and controversial. The characters drink, sing, love, and fight each other throughout this passionate and painful love story.
The release of the novel caused a stir in New Zealand because of its unflinching look at a violent Maori family. While the book originally was written from each character's stream-of-consciousness, the filmmakers decided to focus the story on Jake's wife, Beth. Acclaimed Maori playwright Riwia Brown was brought it to adapt the screenplay to a woman's point of view. Brown worked intensively with producer Robin Scholes and director Lee Tamahori on restructuring the narrative, during which Beth reevaluates her life as she questions her decision to stay with Jake and reconnects with her cultural heritage.
Lee Tamahori, an award-winning television commercial director, saw something special in the script and wanted to make the film his feature debut. He was determined to give the film a gritty and hard-edged feel and be true to the raw, violent nature of the story.
With the final script and director in place, and backing from the Film Commission, New Zealand On Air, and post-production support from Avalon NFU Studios, casting became the next issue. Jake was the most difficult character to cast. The film needed a towering man with tree-stump biceps and explosive, energetic sexuality. After scouring gyms, prisons, and the streets, it was decided only an experienced actor could handle the part. Temuera Morrison put in a stunning audition and secured the role. There was never any question as to who would play Beth. Both Lee Tamahori and producer Robin Scholes had Rena Owen in mind while reading the novel and felt that Owen was the only actress who had the kind of emotional intensity and power the character required.
Director of photography, Stuart Dryburgh (The Piano, An Angel At My Table) and production designer, Mike Kane (Desperate Remedies) are responsible for realizing Tamahori's vision for the film: a vision of atonal colors (strictly blacks, browns, and earthy tones) and enhanced skin tones (achieved by filtered lenses).

Whale Rider

The Story of Whale Rider
Whale Rider reworks the legend of Witi Ihimaera's people at Whangara, which tells how their ancestor, Paikea, arrived at the East Coast on the back of a mighty whale. Ihimaera was inspired to write his book during his years in New York, when he lived in an apartment overlooking the Hudson River. The sight of a whale spouting on the river in 1985 reminded Ihimaera of his people's legend, and led to his story about young Paikea and her grandfather, Koro. Koro is seeking a male heir to succeed him as a leader for the people at Whangara, and young Paikea is determined to prove herself worthy. To do so, she must embark on a demanding spiritual journey to win her grandfather's understanding and acceptance.

Whale Rider Country
Directed by Niki Caro, and based on the novel by writer Witi Ihimaera, Whale Rider was filmed in and around the tiny beachside township of Whangara on the Gisborne and Eastland coastline. This haunting tale of Maori myth and leadership won the People's Choice Award at the 2002 Toronto Film Festival and the World Cinema Audience Award at the 2003 Sundance Film Festival, bringing the region's rugged beauty and rich Maori heritage to international attention.

Steeped in tradition and legend, the Gisborne and Eastland region has been settled by Maori for more than 1000 years, and offers a wealth of attractions and activities for visitors to experience, from vineyards and marae visits to adventure options such as fishing, riding, surfing and whitewater rafting. The region embraces Poverty Bay - Captain Cook's first landing in New Zealand - the historic city of Gisborne, with its thriving wineries, and the remote East Cape, which marks New Zealand's most easterly point.

Whale Rider film Location - Whangara
The small beachside community of Whangara is the heart of Niki Caro's acclaimed film Whale Rider, and retains a strong Maori character and heritage. Just 30km north of Gisborne, Whangara is the hometown of Witi Ihimaera, who wrote the novel Whale Rider. It belongs to the ancestral lands of the Ngati Porou tribe, although Whangara's hapu (sub-tribe) is the Ngati Konohi. Visitors who are interested in seeing where the movie was made can take a three-hour guided WhaleRider tour to Whangara from the Gisborne Information Centre (209 Grey Street, phone 06 868 6139). It visits the house where much of the filming took place, and also provides a chance to talk with one of the cultural advisors to the film. There are a range of credible touring companies providing services to those who are intrested in group travel in Eastland.

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