According to Karetu (1975, p. 31), “Before the coming of the Pākehā (European) to New Zealand, all literature in Māori was oral”. Its transmission to succeeding generations was through a body of oratory. Karetu notes the following types of oratory included: haka [action song]; waiata [song]; tauparapara [a type of karakia recited at the beginning of an orator’s speech]; kāranga [the woman’s call of welcome]; poroporoaki [the farewell]; paki waitara [stories]; whakapapa [the recitation of genealogical links]; whakataukī [aphorisms and proverbs] and pepeha [sayings associated with tribal identity]. Each of these elements was a distinct repository of knowledge that were retained and passed on to successive generations (Henry, 2012). Thus, the orator, the story-teller, the performer, played an important role in the inter-generational transfer of knowledge and culture. However, with the introduction of European knowledge systems, and the increasing importance of the written text, the status of Māori language and knowledge transmission began to diminish in New Zealand society.

However, Māori culture and stories have been evident in moving image production since those innovations were first introduced to New Zealand. In the earliest era of film and television production Māori were more likely to be ‘the object’ of the screen production rather than the author. Early archival footage provided for Pākehā a vicarious peek into Māori society that existed alongside, but was often invisible to, the by then dominant culture. In more recent decades, Māori have begun to develop the Māori screen industry, and story-telling in moving images, from a distinctly Māori perspective.

Ramai Te Miha (Ngai Tahu, Ngāti Kahungunu) met Rudall Hayward, when he directed her in ‘Rewi’s Last Stand’, (1936) and soon after they married. Thus, a Māori became actively involved in the production of moving images for the screen. For more than thirty years Ramai and Rudall Hayward produced work together, including documentaries shot both in New Zealand (“The Song of the Wanganui”, 1961) and abroad (“Inside Red China”, 1958 ).

After Ramai, one of the next Māori to gain national prominence in screen production and broadcasting was Don Selwyn (Ngāti Kuri, Te Aupouri) in the 1970’s as an actor and opera singer. He was followed by other’s whose names are synonymous with the burgeoning Māori film and television industries. These include Selwyn Muru (Ngāti Kuri), Merata Mita, Robin Kora (Muaūpoko), Derek Fox (Ngāti Porou), Ernie Leonard (Ngāti Rangiwewehi, Rangitane), and Barry Barclay to name a few, some of whose contribution to New Zealand as well as Māori film have been recognised and acknowledged for their significance (Dennis and Bieringa, 1992; Dunleavy, 2005).

With the advent of television in New Zealand in 1960, Māori began to appear on screen as news-readers, actors, and in small numbers in the production arena. However, it was not until the 1970’s, with the growth of television production, that Māori began to take a more prominent role in film and television production, behind the camera. The ground-breaking documentary series produced by Pacific Films and directed by Barry Barclay, ‘Tangata Whenua’, went to air in 1974, presenting a uniquely Māori perspective on a range of topics. Barclay wrote about the impact of the ‘Tangata Whenua’ series, stating, “Here were vibrant and articulate Māori speaking so confidently about their own world. Here was keening and waiata and extended conversations in Māori. Something primal had entered the workplace; something people had not encountered, not this way, at least; something unspeakably foreign yet of our own country” (Barclay, 2001).
In 1979, TVNZ offered a one-year production and directing course, which saw the likes of Derek Wooster, a Producer of Māori Programmes at TVNZ for many years, and Robert Pouwhare (Ngai Tūhoe), an independent producer, enter the broadcasting industry. Then, in 1986, TVNZ created the Kimihia program, about which Middleton has written, “At the end of 1986, with Department of Māori Affairs help, TVNZ undertook a training programme, Kimihia, which targeted Māori for producer training (Evans, 1989). The majority of those Māori who entered film and television production through Kimihia, among them Carey Carter and Tiwai Reedy, continue to play an active role in broadcasting. Other Māori working at TVNZ at that time included Tainui Stephens, Brendon Butt and Janine Morrell. Stephens remained at TVNZ for many years, and more recently has co-produced feature films ‘River Queen’ and ‘Rain of the Children’, Butt is a freelance director, and Morrell co-owns Whitebait Productions, one of New Zealand’s leading producers of children’s television.

Before Kimihia, TVNZ had also run a separate Māori television journalist course to bolster the number of young Māori journalists in the television industry. This programme saw an influx of people including Fiona Murchie, Eliza Bidois, Temuera Morrison, Iulia Leilua, George Stirling, Erana Keelan and Brad Haami enter the broadcasting arena. Whai Ngata, Pere Maitai, Puhi Rangiaho, Hinewehi Mohi, Lawrence Wharerau, Tainui Stephens, Hira Henderson, Morehu McDonald and others were all involved at this time, as part of the original Māori Programmes Department.

One of the earliest programmes that the Māori Programmes Department began to produce was Koha, in 1981. This was the first television show to focus on contemporary Māori current affairs. The programme screened until 1988. Koha was replaced by Marae in 1988. From 1987 the Waka Huia programme went into production, produced by the newly formed Māori Department at TVNZ, with a greater emphasis on ethnographic accounts recorded entirely in Te Reo Māori. Both Waka Huia and Marae screen to the present and are seen as the ‘flagships’ of Māori programming within TVNZ, though they continue to be shown in the television ‘wasteland’ of Saturday and Sunday mornings. Speaking about Māori programming in 1989, well-known Māori photographer John Miller stated that, “You have to be an unemployed, insomniac, agnostic to watch Māori programmes, given the times in the week they are screened”, (Henry, 1990).
Out of the Māori Programmes Department, Mai Time went on to become a huge hit in the contemporary rangatahi/youth genre. This show was originally created and produced by Tainui Stephens, Brad Haami and Hinewehi Mohi, and it became a spring board for a younger generation in the industry, people like Mike Haru, Greg Mayor, Quinton Hita, Stacey Morrison, Kimo Winiata, Bennett Pomana, Anahera Higgins, Gabrielle Paringatai, and Olly Coddington were among these. Therefore, despite any criticism, it is television in general, and TVNZ in particular, that has provided the impetus and the screen time for the significant growth in Māori broadcasting until the advent of Māori Television in 2004.

Alongside these developments, the New Zealand Government has remained committed to Māori broadcasting as a consequence of the outcomes of Treaty grievances taken to the Waitangi Tribunal by pan-Māori organisations, including Ngā Kaiwhakapūmau i Te Reo, the New Zealand Māori Council and Māori Women’s Welfare League. In particular, the findings of the Māori Broadcasting Claim (WAI 176) and Te Reo Māori Claim (WAI 11) have ensured the Crown must accept their responsibility for the revitalisation of Māori language and culture through broadcasting. According to the WAI 176 Summary Report (1994),
“The claimants alleged Treaty breaches by the Crown in its broadcasting policies, and they sought, inter alia, that the Broadcasting Act 1989 and the Radiocommunications Act 1989 be amended to ensure that Māori, their language, and their culture had a secure place in broadcasting in New Zealand. The Tribunal considered that many of the issues raised had been canvassed in earlier reports (the Report on the Te Reo Māori Claim and the Report on Claims Concerning the Allocation of Radio Frequencies) and in the general courts, and the Tribunal accordingly made no further inquiry into the claim”.

However, the findings of the earlier, Te Reo Māori Claim (WAI 11), were more prescriptive. The Report for the Te Reo Māori Claim (1986) stated, “The claimants alleged that the Crown had failed to protect the language as required by Article II of the Treaty of Waitangi and proposed that it be made official for all purposes, enabling its use as of right in Parliament, the courts, Government departments, local authorities, and public bodies”. Since 1986 a number of these recommendations have been implemented by successive governments. For example, in 1996 Aotearoa Television Network (ATN) was set up, as a national television channel, but survived for less than two years, closing in a shroud of accusations and acrimony. In the aftermath of the dissolution of ATN, the then National Government consulted with the Māori broadcasting community, which resulted in a series of recommendations to ensure a more robust Māori Television Strategy (Māori Television, 1998).

It was not until 2004, under a Labour-led government, that the Māori Television Service began, which has heralded in a vibrant era for Māori broadcasting, increasing the capacity of the Māori screen industry, and capturing the interest and imagination of a wide New Zealand audience. Thus, Māori in and on television have undergone radical and positive transformation since the introduction of television in 1960. The Māori Television Service draws on funding of approximately $30 million per annum from Te Māngai Pāho for productions that meet must stringent criteria around Te Reo content.

As well as the progress made by and for Māori in television is the equally significant increase in the visibility and success of Māori films. As previously stated, the earliest films relating to Māori stories and people were vicarious peeks into an alien world. John O’Shea’s 1952 film, Broken Barrier, was ground-breaking in that it explored inter-racial love, at a time in New Zealand society when such relationships were not common and frequently frowned upon. It was another thirty years before Māori film-makers made their presence felt on the national and international stage. In the 1980’s Merata Mita stormed the indigenous world with feature documentaries that exposed the underlying and institutional racism permeating New Zealand society, with Bastion Point: Day 507 (1980) about the occupation and eviction of Ngāti Whātua from their tribal homelands; and Patu (1983), an expose of the deeply divisive tour of New Zealand by the Springbok rugby team in 1981. In 1987 Barclay directed Ngāti, written by Tama Poata and produced by Pacific Films, which was an important milestone in terms of Māori creative input into screen production. In 1988 Merata Mita wrote and directed Mauri, only the second feature-film directed by a Māori woman. The first was ‘To Love a Māori’, co-directed by Ramai Hayward in 1972.

During the mid-1980’s the then Labour Government created the Project Employment Programme (PEP Scheme), which saw more than 50,000 New Zealanders engaged in funded jobs, mainly with local government and non-government organisations until the scheme was axed in 1985. It provided the infrastructure for Māori arts groups to set up training programs. Once such program was set up by Don Selwyn and Brian Kirby, about which it has been written, “From 1984 to 1990 he ran the film and television course He Taonga i Tawhiti (Gifts from Afar), providing Māori and Pacific Island students with the technical skills to tell their own stories in film and television. In its six years of existence 120 people completed the course. With producer Ruth Kaupua, Don formed He Taonga Films in 1992 to create job opportunities for course graduates and to provide outlets for Māori drama writers”, (Arts Foundation).
One of the projects that Don helped initiate was the 1989 ‘E Tipu E Rea’ Māori Television drama series, produced by Larry Parr who has a career as a film producer spanning thirty years. According to Rakuraku (2008), “The purpose of E Tipu E Rea was twofold: to showcase Māori-driven narrative while creating a training ground for Māori creative talent in the industry.  It was largely due to the groundwork laid by Te Manu Aute, a collective of Māori in the film and television industry at that time, that E Tipu E Rea was eventually realised. Part of its mission statement read:

“Māori control means full control over the conceptualisation, management, execution and distribution of the project in question”

The E Tipu E Rea series paved the way for other Māori drama series, including Ngā Puna (1994), Matakū (2001-2005) and Aroha (2001); the last series shot entirely in Te Reo.

As previously stated, Te Manu Aute played a crucial role in driving the political agenda of Māori screen production in the 1980s. Like other pan-Māori organisations that strove for language revitalisation in the 1970s, including the Te Reo Māori Society, Māori Women’s Welfare League, New Zealand Māori Council, Ngā Kaiwhakapūmau i Te Reo, and Ngā Tamatoa, Te Manu Aute continued that tradition, but chose to do so as a loose coalition, rather than a formal organisation, until the creation of Ngā Aho Whakaari.

In recent decades there has been a significant growth in Māori story-telling on film. Movies such as ‘Once Were Warriors’ (1994), ‘Whale Rider’ (2002), ‘River Queen’ (2005), ‘Strength of Water’ (2009), Boy (2010), ‘Matariki’(2010) and Mt Zion (2013) have brought a new generation of film-makers to prominence. However, drawing on the Te Manu Aute mission that authentic Māori authorship comprises: “full control over the conceptualisation, management, execution and distribution of the project in question”, very few of the abovementioned films would fit that description. Only ‘Boy’ and ‘Mt Zion’ were written, produced and directed by Māori. The first was collaboration between Taika Waititi (writer/director), and Ainsley Gardiner and Cliff Curtis (producers); the second was collaboration between writer/director Tearepa Kahi and producers Quinton Hita and Karen Waaka. Interestingly, Taika’s first feature film, ‘Eagle versus Shark’ (2007), drew on the same Māori creative team, but did not purport to be a Māori-centric story at all, thereby showing that authentic Māori authorship does not necessarily require a Māori-centric story to be told. ‘Once Were Warriors’, from the book written by Alan Duff, screenplay by Riwia Brown, and directed by Lee Tamahori; ‘Whale Rider’, based on a story by Witi Ihimaera; and ‘Boy’ are amongst the top box-office earners in New Zealand’s film history, and ‘Mt Zion’ has opened to positive reviews in Australia, thereby indicating that Māori-centric stories resonate with a national and international audience.

Thus, we can see that Māori have moved from being the objects of screen production to the producers of moving images, which give a unique insight into the Māori world and have brought those images and stories to a wide audience. Māori participation in screen production has grown exponentially in the last fifteen years. This can be attested by the numbers of Māori who registered as being available for work in the ‘Brown Pages Directory of Māori and Pacific People in Film, Video and Television’. The first edition (1993) had less than one hundred names in it. The most recent edition (2008) had over three hundred names in it. This growth can also be confirmed by the amount invested in Māori television and film production by government agencies, including the NZ Film Commission, New Zealand on Air (NZOA), Creative New Zealand and Te Māngai Pāho.

The Screen Industry Survey (2006-2007), which refers to all businesses involved in screen production, post-production, distribution, exhibition, and broadcasting, noted that: “In 2007, total revenue for the New Zealand screen industry was $2,447 million, a decrease from $2,581 million in 2006. Television broadcasting was the most significant sector in 2007, accounting for $1,081 million of total revenue, a slight increase compared with $1,071 million in 2006”, (Statistics New Zealand, 2007, p.3). Whilst the abovementioned report provides an invaluable overview of the industry, there is little specific data about Māori screen production and capacity. That information has to be synthesized from other data, including the amounts contributed by funding agencies for the Māori Television Service and other Māori film and television projects. According to Akuhata-Brown & Henry (2009) in 2007 approximately $43 million of Crown funding had gone into projects produced by a Māori-owned production company, and/ or written and directed by Māori, for film or television. So, Māori screen production is a very small part of the total screen industry. However, it can still be viewed as a significant contributor to Māori economic development, and more importantly to aspirations for revitalisation of language, culture and authentic Māori authorship.

With this increasing involvement by Māori in screen production, Māori communities are participating in many more aspects of the industry and at all levels. This growth has led to Māori communities themselves becoming more politically and culturally aware of their position as the indigenous people of New Zealand, including within the screen industry. This has prompted a greater need for consultation with Māori, particularly where issues relate to obligations inherent in the Treaty of Waitangi partnership forged between Māori and the Crown, that is, around partnership, protection and participation of both parties to the Treaty. Other issues for which consultation is important include: ownership of stories and history, intellectual and cultural property rights, the archiving and protection of Māori knowledge and culture (Mātauranga Māori) and the depiction of Māori, especially where screen productions portray Māori people and culture.

For the purposes of this publication, a distinction has been made between ‘Māori content’ and ‘significant Māori content.’ ‘Māori content’ may refer to any part of a screen production where Māori people, stories, language, lands, and ‘tāonga’ (treasures) are filmed, recorded or portrayed for the screen, including productions, which may or may not be derived from a Māori world view or ethos. ‘The Piano’, (1993), written and directed by Jane Campion, produced and funded by Australians, is a case in point, where none of the key creatives are Māori, but Māori comprise a significant proportion on the on-screen ‘talent’. ‘Significant Māori Content’ refers to productions that draw on Māori language, history and culture, and where the key creative roles (writer, producer, and director) are filled by Māori. For example, ‘Boy’ (2010), was written, directed, and produced by Māori.

In summary, Māori have had a varying relationship with screen production. In the earliest years of film, Māori were more likely to be the objects of European curiosity, which was reflected in the images of Māori culture and society that were conveyed to the wider world. It was not until the 1940s that Māori began to tell our own stories on film. It was similar in television, which was first introduced to New Zealand in 1960. Again, in the early years, Māori were more likely to be the objects of enquiry, rather than the authors of our stories. It was the work of stout-hearted individuals, who broke down the barriers, often with the help of supportive Pākehā in positions of power, which has created the domain we can now refer to as the Māori screen industry.