I just saw this film again a few nights ago and was even more impressed than with my first viewing. Director Barry Barclay personally introduced the film and pointed out that it was the first 'First Nations' feature ever released - that is, a feature film substantially created by an indigenous people.
That said, many 'pakeha' (New Zealanders of European descent) contributed the the process, including producer John O'Shea and many cast and crew members. However, it is very much a 'Maori film', magically evoking a kind of small, rural community where most people are related or else connected through ties of long association.
'Ngati' specifically captures the rhythms and speech of a world which is partly-traditional and partly-modern. One effective means of conveying this atmosphere is how the film depicts music threaded through many aspects of life - a healing ceremony, a night-out at the pub, a community dance, a funeral - taking on both traditional and modern colorings. Music binds the community together. The song 'Paikea' is sung many times, but you can also hear snatches of 'Blue Smoke' and 'Maori Battalion Marching Song', and several traditional chants.
I must agree however with another posting here that some of the acting lets the film down a bit. There's a woodenness to some of the supporting roles and yet thankfully, it errs on the understated side and is never distorted or hammy. The same posting is rather harsh on the film's ultimate importance and I must disagree. This is really a gem of a film - the photography, landscapes, subtle writing, art direction, and faces of the people all create a convincing historical imagining.
But it is also more than a period-piece. Made in the mid-1980s, when Maori were asking forcibly for a greater role in NZ society, the film makes a sincere statement for a reclamation of 'mana' and economic control. In retrospect, Barclay's film is one of the most humane and subtle expressions of Maori aspiration. The political subtexts of the story are complex and never descend into simple polemic.
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