Courageous sisterhood takes on gritty subject

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ON SET: Ainsley Gardiner is one of eight women Maori directors of Waru.
Photos supplied


Whakamax, Thursday,
October 19.


WARU is a powerful New Zealand film that opens next week – and Whakatane-based film-maker Ainsley Gardiner told the Beacon why she was drawn to make the movie.

The movie, produced by Kerry Warkia and Kiel McNaughton, weaves together eight sequences that focus on the tangi of a young boy who has died at the hands of his caregiver.

Each vignette follows a different Maori woman as she reacts to the killing and tries to find a way forward in the community.

Gardiner said she was one of eight Maori women co-directors involved in the making of Waru, which means eight, with each director shooting a short film that focuses on the same 10 minutes of a particular day.

“The producers came up with the idea because they wanted to give voice to the perspectives and discussion around child abuse,” said Gardiner, who has produced shorts, television shows and feature films, including co-producing Boy and Eagle vs Shark.

She said they also wanted to give voice to Maori women film-makers and put out a call out in the industry for Maori women to come forward to be involved.

“There was a kind of anxiety that there were not that many of us.

“But there were so many … more than enough to choose from.”

Gardiner said the eight selected directors met with the producers, who gave them a tight framework around which to make their short films, including that each had to have a Maori woman protagonist as the lead and each event had to be shot in a single shot, on one day, in Auckland.

“We came together, opening our hearts, talking about the issue and our personal experience and sharing ideas.”

The other directors include Briar Grace-Smith, Casey Kaa, Katie Wolfe, Chelsea Cohen, Renae Maihi, Paula Jones and Awanui Simich-Pene.

Most of the directors, including Gardiner, also wrote the screenplays for their short films.

Gardiner, 44, said the films were created individually over a few months, but at the end they naturally sat well together.

The director said choosing the lead for her film was not difficult as there were so many great Maori women actors in their 20s to 40s.

“We were spoilt for choice.”

The film stars Tanea Heke, Roimata Fox, Ngapaki Moetara, Awhina-Rose Ashby, Maria Walker, Kararaina Rangihau, Acacia Hapi, Miriama McDowell and Amber Curreen.

“My story talks about a woman who is juggling poverty and doing as many jobs as she can, but under extreme pressure.

“I want the audience to have a sense that as mothers, let alone as solo mothers, we struggle to maintain our humanity and any one of us could be on a knife edge with the choices we make, and that there are compounding factors and circumstances that change how we behave.”

GRITTY: Waru, a compelling story that focuses on the death of a child, opens in Whakatane this week.

Gardiner said Waru gave insight into and an understanding of how abuse could happen, as well as its impact on the broader community. It also broached where solutions might lie, suggesting this needed to start with understanding and compassion.

A mother herself of three daughters aged nine, 11 and 16, Gardiner said she usually only wrote and produced films as this was easier and less time-consuming than directing. But she said it had always been her goal to write and direct more.

She said the subject of child abuse was dark, and was something she was reluctant to explore at first, but she realised the historic significance of Waru, and that it was important for women to have a voice in this subject.

“I consider myself to be a political film-maker and so the opportunity to be a part of the first film in 27 years to be directed by Maori women was appealing.”

Merata Mita, who died in 2010, was the last female Maori director to make a film – Mauri, in 1988.

“It was also the opportunity to do something meaningful – for our communities, and for New Zealand as a whole.”
Gardiner said the tight timeframes and restrictions around the making of the movie also appealed.

“I love the idea of restraints … one of these was that the film had to be shot in one shot.

“When we find ourselves up against a brick wall that is when we have our greatest inspiration.”