8 protagonists, all Māori women. 8 directors (and one co-writer), all Māori women with screenwriting, directing or producing experience, working on their first feature film. 8 chapters of 10 minutes, each shot in a single breath-taking take. And at the heart of it, one eight-year-old boy named Waru, around whose funeral the community has come together to stop itself falling apart. Moving from the can’t-stand-the-heat-then-get-out kitchen where organiser Charm is preparing food (and negotiating a new relationship with her son’s white girlfriend) to a black-and-white world in which Titty and Bash, two farmers who may be divine beings, arrive to exact justice, Waru is threaded by Waru’s voice-over, suggesting that we navigate from character to character based on his connection to the world he’s left behind.
We meet his grieving grandmothers, who perform the needed rituals for him; his primary school teacher and her lover, as she tries to balance her professional and personal lives; a journalist facing down on-air racism from her colleagues; struggling single mothers who receive wake-up calls about taking care of themselves and their children; and a young woman who steps up to channel her grandmother’s power.
Mere, in fact, channels the power of the whole film – both its narrative and its production – as she challenges the man who has been abusing children in the community for years. Her cousin and other women gather behind her, presenting a united front; strength in union around Mere’s daring and responsibility. So too the film, gathering its eight protagonists, throws down the gauntlet: listen to the voices of Indigenous women; admit that exclusion from the means of production is a form of violence; and recognise that there are Indigenous women with the skills, experience and brilliance to make world-changing films.
Here are their names: Briar Grace-Smith (Ngāti Hau and Ngāpuhi); Casey Kaa (Ngāpuhi and Tainui); Ainsley Gardiner (Ngāti Awa, Te Whānau-a-Apanui, Ngāti Pikiao, Whakatōhea); Katie Wolfe (Ngāti Mutunga and Ngāti Tama); Renae Maihi (Ngāti Whakaue, Ngāpuhi); Chelsea Cohen (Ngāti Ranginui); Paula Jones (Te Whakatōhea, Te Aitanga-a-Māhaki, Ngāti Porou); Awanui Simich-Pene (Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Hauā, Ngāti Tuwharetoa, Ngāti Apakura, Croatian, Belgian); and Josephine Stewart-Te Whiu (Ngāpuhi).
Watch Waru, and watch out for what they do next.
So Mayer is a writer and activist, and the author of Political Animals: The New Feminist Cinema (IB Tauris, 2015) and The Cinema of Sally Potter: A Politics of Love (Wallflower, 2009). They are a regular contributor to Sight & Sound and Literal, a member of queer feminist film curators Club des Femmes, and a co-founder of film industry campaigners Raising Films. @tr0ublemayer