NZIFF Q&A: Merata: How Mum Decolonised the Screen

Merata Mita, landmark Māori filmmaker behind Patu! and Mauri, is honoured in this personal portrait from her son Heperi Mita. The film premieres at this year’s New Zealand International Film Festival, so we asked Heperi a few questions.

FLICKS: Please summarise your film in EXACTLY ten words.

HEPERI MITA: A solo mother becomes a filmmaker and shocks the world.

Why did you choose to make this film your feature debut?

There were many issues that my mum grappled with in the 70s and 80s that parallel a lot of what’s going on in 2018, but really I had no choice. With both my mother and father being filmmakers, my background in journalism, my role as an archivist, and being the youngest in the family – not to mention being part of the story myself! – I couldn’t escape.

Is this film intended more for those well-versed in Merata’s work or for those who know little?

Essentially the story is about a family. The work serves to illustrate their lives.

Is there any feeling of awkwardness or added pressure making a film about your mum, the screen legend? Or is the opposite true?

It is absolutely awkward! There are images of her breastfeeding me as a baby and later on in the film she’s openly discussing abortion… I don’t think a film can get any more personal than that! But also, my mother was, and still is, a very divisive figure and an extremely complex person. So she’s extremely difficult to profile.

Did you have a clear idea of how to tell your mum’s story from the start or did you find the narrative during the edit?

I knew that her children held the key to the story. My eldest brother is the only person in the world who maintained a continuous relationship with her from the time she was a housewife and teacher, to a pioneer of indigenous filmmaking. How that story unfolded, however, had to be discovered at the editing bench.

What was the hardest moment to cut from the final film?

One of my brothers passed away unexpectedly two weeks after I interviewed him, so cutting anything out from him was very hard for me as I felt that seeing him on screen was a way of being close to him again.

What’s next in store for you as a filmmaker?

A comedic musical.

What was the last great film you experienced?

I’m a geek for science fiction and I loved Blade Runner 2049! The visual effects and the way it explored questions around existentialism hit me on multiple levels.