Husband and wife team Jake Mokomoko (Whakatōhea, Te Rarawa) and Claire Varley (Te Ātianga a Māhaki, Te Whānau-ā-Apanui) have burst onto the film scene with their first short film ‘Hāngī Pantsthat they wrote, produced and directed. The short comedy premiered at the Oscar-accredited Show Me Shorts film festival and went on to amuse audiences all around Aotearoa. 

“Hāngī Pants is a fictional story about an inappropriately dressed woman who turns up to the tangi of her ex-lover. The concept for the film came from a memory that my mother had spoken about for years,” says Claire. 

The film features a well-known all-Māori cast including Tahei Simpson, Mabel Wharekawa-Burt and The Hui producer Annabelle Lee-Mather in her first acting role. The highlight is a flamboyant display of karanga at the tangi of a man beloved by many, when a succession of his ex-wives show up to out-do each other on the marae. 

“We didn’t think twice about funding this ourselves with a lot of love and chip ins from our friends,” says Claire. “It’s been great to now see our work being recognised,” added Jake. The pair say self-funding their own project was a blessing in disguise to not have to compromise telling the story that they wanted to tell. 

The short film has had successful screenings and won the People’s Choice Awards at the Show Me Shorts film festival and the Wairoa Māori Film Festival. “The feedback has been amazing,” said Jake. “There has been a lot of support from people in and out of the film and television industry. We’ve taken two audience awards, which means so much to us.” 

Jake comes from a background in film and television having attended film school and working at Māori Television and in the local screen industry for many years. More recently he was travelling overseas and worked as an independent director of photography on international productions. Claire is new to the industry coming from a background in hairdressing. She calls her husband “a visionary” and Jake acknowledged Claire’s part in supporting him to create opportunities for them to tell this story. 

“I think a lot of times Māori men, we don’t like to speak about our own talent, skills or passions, we just go through life paying the bills,” said Jake. “The support from Claire has allowed me to create this opportunity and be who I am today.” 

The couple started their own production company “Ten Canaries” and are looking ahead to “Hāngī Pants” travelling to a short film festival in Colombia and they have just been invited to represent Aotearoa in a filmmaking competition in Russia this month.  

Based in Pāpāmoa, Claire and Jake are the parents of six young children. They took a giant leap of faith to leave their comfort zones and set themselves up to tell their own stories. They know very well the struggles of new creative storytellers and encourage others to take risks. “It’s scary but you’ve got to back yourself,” said Claire. Jake continued, “if you have the skills just believe in yourself and know that you can do it.”

These two are definitely ones to watch in the future.