New Zealand period piece and inter-generational epic Mahana premieres today at the Sydney Film Festival.

Famed Director Lee Tamahori’s latest chronicles the brewing conflict between a family patriarch (Temuera Morrison), his grandson (Akuhata Keefe) and a long-standing feud between two local sheep-shearing families. Its cast and Director recently arrived in Sydney and sat down to chat about their new film.

Full audio above, highlights below


On the film

MORRISON: “Thank you for having us here at the Sydney Film Festival, it’s a wonderful privilege to have our film Mahana screen at the Festival, we are very blessed we have a screening at the State Theatre today and a number of other ones around the Sydney centre. We are looking forward to the reactions from Australian audiences.”

TAMAHORI: “It’s a period film from the 1960s in rural New Zealand where most of the Maoris and rural New Zealand at that time were poor and working class. It’s a story about a large Maori family struggling to survive in the face of harsh economics and rivalry with another family who compete with them for shearing contracts because that’s the only way they can stay alive.”


On the intergenerational conflict

MORRISON: “The film has a number of faces, one being that dynamic between the old and the new. It’s a wonderful dynamic that we get to play out in the film. I have my old ways about doing things, hard work, and it’s about grooming the next generation, finding the next leader within the family. We had a bit of work to do between the grandfather and the grandson, the challenges they face. Lucky for Akuhata he and I had a wonderful time – Akuhata had never been in front of a camera before, first time acting in a film.”

KEEFE: “I wanted to be an actor before this film and was planning on starting smaller and then all of a sudden this big New Zealand film came up and they wanted me to play a part in it so I jumped.”


On Mahana’s cinematography and the wedding sequence

TAMAHORI: ”I was infusing it with the memory of the American western from the late 50’s and early 60s which was the greatest era of the American western. We don’t have that tradition, nor does Australia. It’s a dead genre, most people don’t even remember it, they look at it as a great old relic but it was a mainstay of people’s cinema-going at that time and anybody who lived in a rural environment and was on a horse patterned themselves along the lines of John Wayne or Jimmy Stewart or Henry Fonda or whoever was riding across the screen at the time so I decided to take the story, this generational story and infuse it with the classic set-pieces from the American western.”

“I was determined to get 3:10 to Yuma into the picture, it’s one of my favourite movies and we were looking around at options… the scene in the film when they go to watch this western and all hell breaks out was based on something I saw in my youth in a picture-hall very much like that.”


On the courthouse scene

KEEFE: “That scene, that is something I would never do in real life. My character is like me personality wise but the things he does, he goes that extra mile to be heard. That scene was very powerful and I had a lot of people come up to me and hug me.”


On the premiere

Morrison: “It’s a blessing just to get it out there – I really enjoyed the movie, there’s a car chase right at the beginning and the family dynamics and a wonderful ensemble. I was amazed some days looking out and seeing all the young Maori actors coming up, following in our footsteps. This was a wonderful opportunity to get another one of our stories out there. It’s a blessing for us to be here and watch it at the Sydney Film Festival.”


Mahana is screening as part of the Sydney Film Festival on Sunday 12 June and Monday 13 June – for tickets head to the Festival website

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