Monday, July 18, 2011

Mana Waka - a piece of history

Trisha and I went to a screening of a new print of Merita Mita's 1990 re-visioning of Mana Waka, a film documenting the felling, carving and floating of Maori waka (canoes) by Tainui, in preparation for the 100th anniversary of the Treaty of Waitangi, in 1940.

Aside from its historical significance the film is notable for a few interesting filmic variations. The use of voice-over (bi-lingual) was sparing, filling in detail only when it added to what was shown on screen. Much of the running time was filled with scenes with no spoken words, but relying on the sounds of the bush (axes, timberjacks, yoked bullock teams, the birds and insects of the forest.) Because these sounds were primary, they were in fact dialogue, in the way that another film might use spoken words. The sounds had an ebb and flow, a dynamic range. The audience responded to moments (when the waka base was being transported down a steep gully it almost upended - and the audience gasped) as they would to any other filmic dialogue. With intensity, with intimacy.

The film was a reminder of the giant of NZ cinema that was Merita Mita, and it was a privilege to be in the presence of her whanau and iwi in the theatre.  

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