Filmmaker Libby Hakaraia & Māoriland

Libby Hakaraia

Libby Hakaraia is extraordinary, as a maker of film and television and a visionary change maker. I loved hearing Libby on a Media Take panel last year, and have often felt that Māori women’s voices are not often enough heard at industry events. So I was delighted that she agreed to answer some questions.

Based in Ōtaki, just north of Wellington, Libby and her life-and-work partner Tainui Stephens established the Māoriland Film Festival in 2014. It’s held each March to celebrate ‘the vibrant and diverse perspectives of Indigenous peoples from around the globe’, with films from all over the world that are ‘as diverse as the people — from comedies to drama to documentary’.

And it’s a great festival for anyone who wants to watch films made by women. Last year I spent a full day doing just that and it was so good. This year, 60% of the films screened had women directors, a fantastic benchmark for other festivals. Māoriland is much more than a week-long annual event. It has a physical base, The Māoriland Hub, a collaboration and gathering space for Indigenous cinema, the arts, social enterprise, social responsibility, kaitiakitanga (environmental sustainability) and great kai (food), with associated programmes that run throughout the year.

These include the Māoriland Social Club and Māoriland programmes for young people, including Through our Lens: Filmmaking in Te Moananui a Kiwa which will take young Māori filmmakers into the Pacific to work with young filmmakers there. Selected from a nationwide callout and workshopping process, the group will travel to Rarotonga, Hawaii, Samoa and Tahiti to connect and collaborate with their peers and create networks that will lead to more collaborations in future. (Its promo is below.)

Māoriland also organises filmmaking workshops throughout the North Island. And is just generally a good global citizen.

When I asked Libby if she and other wāhine Māori prefer to speak mainly to their own communities she assured me that ‘If I get asked to speak about Māoriland or film projects then I am generally happy to do so’. So I look forward to hearing more! Warm thanks to you for today’s responses, Libby.

Māoriland family screening, under the stars

ME I loved the vitality and warmth at Māoriland: you embraced everyone, including children and young people; and that that the programme paused to greet people marching to Wellington to advocate for clean water. It seems to me that your entire philosophy is geared to inclusion and to the future. And when I read this from Tina Makereti, in relation to writing, I wondered if the truths about the conditions of film production are similar and that you’re working to change those conditions–

‘In a class of young middle class Pākehā students (e.g. the majority university classes) there are many clever, witty, talented, politically astute and very pleasant people. Some of them are beautiful writers. Educationally, they have always been surrounded by writers, theorists and educationalists with the same socio-cultural capital as them. Few of them have stories to tell. Yet.

In a class of Māori / Pasifika / immigrant students (not so many middle class, not so many young) there are many clever, witty, talented, politically astute and very pleasant people. Some of them are beautiful writers. Few of them have ever had the opportunity to read writing from their own communities. Few of them have ever had the opportunity to write from or about their own communities. Yet, I struggle to remember a single one that didn’t have a compelling story to tell.’

Māoriland audience

LH Yes I thoroughly agree with Tina. I have the good fortune of working again with Dame Anne Salmond who, when we were making a documentary some years ago about her great-grandfather, the photographer and filmmaker James McDonald, described how she sometimes felt there was something akin to dual worlds in Aotearoa. Dame Anne described it as a ‘veil’ that many Pākehā were unaware of when they travelled around Aotearoa. And that beyond this ‘veil’ was a rich cultural world of stories that they were unaware of. She said that whilst Pākehā could not ignore the physical reality of marae throughout the country it was a sad thing that most have never been onto a marae and experienced the stories there.

A further example is the local content created for mainstream TV versus that made for Māori Television. Ever since I started in the TV industry 20 years ago broadcasting commissioners at TV’s 1 and 3 have only really been interested in commissioning programmes that oversimplify a Māori viewpoint or barely reach above the stereotypes that Māori and Pākehā have about each other. There have been very few breakout Māori programmes over this time and even less chance of this happening on these channels in the future. Māori Television on the other hand has given Māori storytellers an opportunity to look at a great range of issues, people and events both contemporary and historical and to be creative in their telling of these stories. However MTS reaches fewer viewers with a vast majority of New Zealanders not watching because it’s the Māori channel.

Perhaps the veil is more like a wall for broadcasting.

the team at work

By creating a festival that promotes collaboration and celebrates all indigenous perspectives we spent the first few years ensuring that everyone was welcome because our key fundamental practice is manaakitanga, to host visitors. So we let that be known and continue to let that known as often as possible. When creating the programme at Māoriland we firstly ensure the criteria of key indigenous creatives is in place and then we consider how we can promote the work to appeal to as many people as possible. Creating short film programmes around themes such as whanau, whenua (of the land) wairua (of the spirit) and whakapapa (connectedness) draws diverse audiences as well.

ME Can you write a little bit about your kaupapa and how you see your programmes developing, over the next few years, or over a generation?

The kaupapa of the Māoriland Charitable Trust is for the cultural, social and economic benefit of Ōtaki. Ōtaki is statistically described as low socioeconomic and has many of the deprivation indicators found throughout regional NZ including limited employment and services, including health. However in the 20 years I have lived in Ōtaki I have seen the resilience of my own whanau, hapū and iwi to write our own narrative. One example of this is the success of Whakatupuranga Rua Mano (generation 2000) a vision that our kaumatua conceived in 1975 when there were very few reo Māori speakers under the age of 30 on our marae. The vision was that by the year 2000 this loss would be reversed. Now almost 30 years on Ōtaki is recognised as a bi-lingual town with a growing youth population who are culturally secure in their language and stories. These are my nieces and nephews.

young people outside the festival

It seems to me that having a strong sense of one’s cultural identity creates a curiosity about and empathy towards other people’s cultures. I therefore see huge potential in our rangatahi to again change the mainstream narrative that has Māori pitted against Pākehā that describes minority viewpoints as inferior and that promotes capitalism as the meaning of life. This is not going to lead to a better life for our mokopuna. Therefore we need to be both change makers and believers. We need to gather all those who are able or have the means to support us. We must always strive to do what we say we will do with transparency because we are accountable to our own people of the five hapū of Ōtaki. It’s this self determination that ensures the kaupapa remains intact.

Through the Māoriland Film Festival and the Māoriland Hub the kaupapa is to support the growth of a healthy village of culturally secure people and others who welcome people from around the world to share their stories and experiences.

Māoriland group 2017

ME What about funding?

LH The Māoriland Charitable Trust seeks funding from a range of funds including the NZFC depending on the project. The UNESCO fund worked for our Through Our Lens project. The NZFC have supported our Native Slam initiative and also fund the festival.

With regards to being a charitable trust the advantage was around access to grants and donations. Māoriland Charitable Trust is a social enterprise and therefore we do have a strategic plan to make money to be able to be self-sustainable across all our activities by 2020.

sand in your toes

ME What are the advantages and disadvantages of being based in Ōtaki?

LH Firstly we were always going to have it in Ōtaki for the kaupapa resides there.

Basing the festival in a west coast community 1 hour from NZ’s capital city and 20 mins from the nearest airport is an advantage rather than a disadvantage. Especially in terms of our international and national guests. We are in effect taking them captive for the entire festival and this enables real connections to be made both between filmmakers and with their audiences and the community.

Tainui and I have been to many film festivals overseas and in NZ and we wanted to offer a festival where the frenetic pace of urban life and all the pressures of getting your film made made way for the calmness of sitting on the beach with the sand in your toes with filmmakers who shared your experiences. We have been told by filmmakers that they have been healed by coming to Māoriland. We have seen collaborations flourish and lifelong friendships made.

Libby with Tainui Stephens on the red carpet at the festival

For audiences we understand that they may have to travel from Wellington and further afield and we certainly will be looking at how we can assist with travel and so forth as the festival grows. Overnight accommodation is part of this growth plan. We see homestays as being an option as well as camping options similar to Womad and other festivals.

ME Where do you see yourselves fitting globally as a festival?

LH Māoriland is New Zealand’s international indigenous film festival. We are part of an global network of indigenous cinema that includes imagineNATIVE, Sundance, Berlinale Native (Berlin Film festival), Winda (Australia), Skabmagovat (Finland) and many many more. We regularly attend their festivals and they ours. We also collectively run the NATIVe Stand at the European film market in Berlin each year to promote our indigenous film works.

Winda’s artistic director Pauline Clague, legendary Metis filmmaker Alanis Obomsawin & Libby

ME You’re transparent about your statistics. I wish all festivals were the same. How did you reach that magic 60% of women-directed films? I read this in an interview with Michelle Latimer and wondered if her perception accords with your experience–

‘You’re reading everywhere that there’s no female directors. At imagineNative, up to 70% of the films that were submitted to us were female-directed… Women are actually telling stories very often in our community.’

Does the proportion of women-directed films reflect a similar proportion of submissions? And if so, why do you think women submit their films in such high numbers?

LH For Māoriland, our end result when it came to diversity is not so simple as a matter of submissions — we actually received far more submissions from men, the only thing was that the majority of them were ineligible for submission (we require a key creative to self identify as Indigenous).

Once we accounted for that and then considered the films that we had decided to invite to screen from imagineNATIVE, Skabmagovat, the Berlinale NATIVE programme, Sundance and Winda we had a much more equitable picture of things. But if we’re honest, we didn’t programme attempting to reach any number — that came out once we had completed our programme and did the final numbers and that really is a testament to the great work that our female filmmakers are producing.

In 2017, one of the biggest films in Europe — Sámi Blood was directed by Amanda Kernell. Michelle Latimer who you mentioned directed the phenomenal documentary series RISE.

Our People’s Choice Award winner was Amie Batalibasi, an Australian Solomon Island filmmaker who is this year’s Merata Mita Fellow at Sundance. And then if you look at our NATIVE Slam teams, we have a female majority there too — largely because they were people who put their hand up and asked to be involved.

In the Indigenous film world, our female directors are hungry to create work, and because the nature of our industry is a bit more guerilla, they’re making it happen for themselves.

Libby with fellow directors Karin Williams, Briar-Grace-Smith & Chelsea Winstanley (Cohen)

ME And what about your own filmmaking?

LH We’ve always got TV and film work on. This week (Sept 1–5th) I am directing a short film called The Gravedigger of Kapu. It’s a follow up to The Lawnmower Men of Kapu. I have also been directing a television series for Greenstone TV with Dame Anne Salmond called Artefact. Tainui and I also have several other television projects that are funded and that we produce under Blue Bach Productions Ltd. In September/October we are also traveling with 14 rangatahi Māori filmmakers to the South Pacific to make films with the Through Our Lens project.

Libby with Tainui on set

Originally published at



Women Filmmakers: Their Craft & LIves — Interviews from Wellywood Woman 2010–2021

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Stories by & about women artists, writers and filmmakers. Global outlook, from Aotearoa New Zealand.