May 21, 2019, 10:50 a.m.
She was a pioneer for women in filmmaking, as well as a driving force for pushing Māori creativity and now her life comes to screen in the documentary MERATA: How mum decolonised the screen directed by her son, Heperi Mita.
Born in Māketu, Merata Mita of Ngāi te Rangi and Ngāti Pikiao descent died in 2010 leaving behind a 25 year legacy of film most significantly; her dramatic feature Mauri, the landmark documentary Patu! which exposed the racial clashes of the springbok tour and Bastion Point: Day 507.
She was the first woman in Aotearoa to solely write and direct a feature and her groundbreaking life inspired her youngest son to begin a five year journey of research through archival footage and interviews exploring the impact of her work on both international indigenous and New Zealand filmmaking.
“Her career was launched in the North. Her first documentary was on the treaty of Waitangi and the start of the catholic church in the Hokianga, so her career started there.
“For me what I was really interested in was, what was it like back at home? What was it like for mums who did that type of mahi? A lot of sacrifices were made, she was a member of Ngā Tama Toa and her public profile of making movies put her in the firing line for a lot of criticism and racism at the time.
“It was a really big eye opener for me to see what it was like on the frontline back then and to see how far representation of Māori has changed in the media and how things have stayed the same sadly.”
Heperi Mita said the idea to expand from what was originally a 10 minute short film for his mother’s unveiling to a full length documentary came from one of her prodigy’s Cliff Curtis.
“I wanted it to be about my mum talking about her own life and then I included our whānau to broaden out the story and the voices of Taika Waititi because Mum spent a lot of time mentoring younger talent like Taika and Cliff. They all went to her and they all had a lot of advice for me.
“It’s not just about the issues of Māori but also ngā iwi taketake and indigenous people all around the world can relate to these things and mum did a lot of work overseas.
“She went from Tai Tokerau to the heights of Hollywood so for a solo mother of five kids and getting into a career in film in her late 30’s is quite an amazing journey.”
MERATA opened nationwide on Mother’s day May 12 in both Russell and Whangārei.