Vision Maker Media joins our colleagues around the world in mourning the loss of renowned Maori filmmaker and festival patron Merata Mita, of Ngati Pikiao and Ngai Te Rangi.
Merata was recognized as a key figure in the history of Indigenous filmmaking for her incredible contributions to film, both in New Zealand and around the world. As a passionate advocate, leader, and mentor, her unflinching body of work profoundly shifted the landscape of Indigenous cinema by highlighting on screen a more complex and contemporary portrayal of the experiences of Indigenous peoples.
From the Bay of Plenty in Aotearoa (New Zealand), Merata began her filmmaking career in 1977, directing and co-directing films while also reporting and presenting for the Maori television news show Koha. Merata's acclaimed documentary Patu! documented the violence between protestors and police during the 1981 Springbox tour and was the first feature-length documentary in New Zealand directed by a Maori woman.
In 1988 Merata wrote, directed and produced her first dramatic feature, Mauri, which was only the second feature film drama to have a Maori woman director. Mauri centred around issues of birthright and racism in an isolated rural community, with land rights activist Eva Rickard playing the central role of the grandmother. The film was a training ground for many young Maori crew members and won a best prize at Italy's Rimini Film Festival.
Merata's groundbreaking documentary on artist Ralph Hotere (Hotere, 2001) premiered in Canada at imagineNATIVE in 2002. She was also a producer on the feature film Spooked (2004) that screened at imagineNATIVE in 2005 and was executive producer on The Land has Eyes (2004), the first feature directed by a native Fijian, which opened imagineNATIVE in 2004. She was also on the producing team for Taika Waititi's internationally-acclaimed New Zealand box office smash Boy (2010).
Merata recently returned to New Zealand after many years spent working and teaching in the United States. She was an advisor for the Sundance Film Institute and taught at the University of Hawaii. Earlier this year, Merata was awarded the CNZM (Companion of the Order of New Zealand Merit), for her services to the Film Industry.
Most recently she has been a driving force behind Te Paepae Ataata, the New Zealand Film Commission/Nga Aho Whakaari development initiative to foster and encourage Maori film written, produced and directed by Maori people. A message from Nga Aho Whakaari Chair Tearapa Kahi read: "Merata Mita is a towering giant whose body of work stirs, ignites and guides our emotional and cultural understanding of our country and our people. She was a fierce advocate, a cultural revolutionary, an intellectual and artistic practitioner and mentor, a beautiful mother, a youthful grandmother and a dear friend."
Merata Mita passed away on May 31, 2010. She was completing Savage Grace, a documentary focusing on the importance and love of tamariki -- an artistic and personal response to a spate of recent child abuse cases in New Zealand.
Merata Mita directed or collaborated on: Karanga Hokianga Ki O Tamariki (1979); The Hammer and the Anvil (1979); Keskidee Aroha (1980); Bastion Point: Day 507 (1980); The Bridge: A Story of Men in Dispute (1982); Patu! (1983); Mauri (1988); Mana Waka (1990); The Shooting of Dominick Kaiwhata (1993); Hotere (2001); The Land Has Eyes (2004); Spooked (2004); Keao (2008); Boy (2010).