Maori Boy Genius is a documentary profile on Ngaa Rauuira Pumenewawhiti – an articulate and charismatic 16-year-old prodigy studying political science at Yale, tipped to be New Zealand’s first Maori Prime Minister. The film hits cinemas nationwide May 2nd.
We had a chat with director Pietra Brettkelly, who recently visited Afghanistan for a third time with DoP Jack Bryant, receiving a generous and surprising view of life from the Afghan people.
FLICKS: What should people expect from Maori Boy Genius?
BRETTKELLY: A friend and mentor of mine saw a rough cut of the film. She is a very successful and influential media person both here in New Zealand and overseas. And I think the most surprising comment came from her – she said I’d shown her a side of New Zealand she’d never seen.
What are you trying to convey with the film?
This is a portrait of a 16 year-old finding his way, working out how he fits in life, what his position is in society – and taking his first major political steps. I’d read that when we’re 16 we start to form our political awareness – some obviously more than others.
Could you share your strongest memory from filming?
Any moments including Ngaa Rauuira’s grandparents were special to me – the departure when they cry and hug, and then his return home from Yale University when he and his koro stand and hug and kiss for a long time, even though I’ve worked with this footage in editing for two years, that scene still gets me every time.
What first drew you to Ngaa Rauuira?
Initially I wasn’t drawn to him – when I was approached to make this film I was reticent. I thought a teenage New Zealand male wouldn’t have much to say – they’re not usually very vocal beyond a grunt. And so I was cautious when I first met Ngaa Rauuira. But I found an exciting young mind, considerate, passionate and politically aware. And articulate – and so I thought, “yes, he could carry a film.”
What thoughts about Aotearoa’s history and its potential does he evoke?
I hope to leave those conclusions up to the audience.
If you could make a film about anyone living or dead who would it be?
I’m less interested in the famous and more interested in the every day people.
What was the last great film you saw?
The recent Chilean film No starring Gael Garcia Bernal. I admire so much the director’s approach in using cameras from the time, the screen format of the time and the stylistic moves of the time. Gael is transfixing on camera.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Trust in your gut. First reactions are always true.
What are you thinking about doing next?
I’ve just returned this week from Afghanistan and am filming my next documentary there for the next 1.5 years.