Whale Rider is a story of the quest for the new leader of an indigenous Maori tribe living on an island off the coast of New Zealand. Often this type of film ends up making a caricature of the people, accentuating their quaint customs and idiosyncratic behaviors and causing us to smile condescendingly at their ignorance and stunted development. Whale Rider does nothing of the kind. Director Niki Caro treats her subject matter with profound respect, genuine curiosity and effortless grace, while refusing to ignore the signs of cultural disintegration. It is as if we are invited into the Whangara community, and are free to observe comfortably, without fear or embellishment. The 11-year-old first-time actor Keisha Castle-Hughes gives the most astonishing performance by a child that I have ever witnessed, and lifts the movie from being just plain good to a profoundly moving experience. Whale Rider is a tale of the evolution of a culture, wrapped in humor and hope. It is a story of an indomitable spirit. It is a movie about love and change, about the grim realities of life and the marvelous miracles of faith. If you have a chance to see this film, do not miss it!