Dan Slevin reports on another striking local documentary playing in this year’s film festival.
I don’t watch broadcast television anymore – because there’s too much choice in the on-demand world and I have a very low tolerance for commercials these days – but when I am given cause to regret that choice it is usually because I have missed something on Māori Television.
And so it goes with Tupaia’s Endeavour, a feature-length re-working of Lala Rolls’ series from Māori TV last year that was broadcast (and largely funded by the government’s Tuia 250 programme) to coincide with the 250th anniversary of Cook’s arrival on these shores. I obviously can’t speak to the differences between the series and feature, but the New Zealand International Film Festival’s programme note suggests there is new material which means that the film is essential viewing even for people who think they might have seen it all before.
Why is it essential? Because it portrays with dignity and respect, the tragic first encounter between Cook’s crew and the local iwi at Turanga-nui-a-Kiwa on 9 October 1769 – an event that the local iwi call with deft diplomacy the “Rongowhakaata Collision” – the eventual successful landing at Cook’s Cove a few days later, and the role that Tahitian navigator and translator Tupaia played in getting them from that first disaster to a greater understanding. It also uses the story of Tupaia to re-emphasise – if a re-emphasis were ever needed – that Pacific voyagers were sophisticated and able navigators with an understanding of island networks that far surpassed the Europeans of the time and then finally – like the story of Lilo Ema Siope in Loimata which I reviewed here the other day – it reminds us that Māori are Pacific people and that the story of those historic and ongoing connections is endlessly fascinating and utterly important.
Even if you have read widely on this history, I bet through Tupaia’s Endeavour you will discover some tremendous new insights. And by telling it through the eyes of an almost-forgotten Pacific artist and arioi, director Lala Rolls shows us how influential individuals can be on the great sweep of history.
Tupaia’s Endeavour has its world premiere as part of the New Zealand International Film Festival at the Roxy Cinema in Wellington on 25 July. Like the rest of the festival, it is also playing as a video on demand title and there are several screenings scheduled at cinemas around the country. It’s rated E (Exempt from classification).