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A chat with Māori producer, Tui Ruwhiu

Posted on August 02, 2018

Tui Ruwhiu is the Executive Director at the Directors and Editors Guild of New Zealand, and an independent producer.  With more than 20 years in the film industry, Tui has recently been focused on improving the conditions of people in the screen industry, and knows there is an need for more specific funding focused towards Māori filmmakers. Did you know he was also a panelist in our first Hawaiian Media Makers Conferece in 2014? Read on below.


Moving around a lot as a child, and finally settling in New Plymouth, Aotearoa (New Zealand), Tui Ruwhiu, Executive director of the Directors and Editors Guild of New Zealand (DEGNZ) is also an independent producer who knows his roots. From the North Island, Otaua, Hokianga, his tribe (iwi) is Ngāpuhi, and sub-tribe (hapū) is Ngai-Tu-Teauru. 


PIC sat down with Tui and got to know a little bit more about him and his work. Read below for a round-up on our Q&A session. 


As the executive director at DEGNZ, which works to ensure the creative, cultural and financial well-being of New Zealand directors and editors, he recently has been working on reshaping the employment law around contracting and employing of people in the screen industry. Advocacy, lobbying and professional development have also been a focus for him at DEGNZ. He’s also part of a government panel that focuses on improving the working conditions for screen workers – and this is all contract work for the organization!


But, before his time at DEGNZ, Tui went to school and lived in Japan for 11 years. He shared his apartment with an American and in that started doing writing work with him for a copyright rewriting agency. This is when Tui’s path in the film industry began to take shape. 


Tui worked as a production assistant and live producer doing commercials for a number of years, and one of his first production jobs was an entertainment job for a rock group touring Asia. But, his very own first project was a commercial for the Japanese Electronics Company, Pioneer. 


“I was an assistant to the producer to the movie “Once Were Warriors," and that was the first time I thought about film.” Tui explained. But, he didn’t make a commitment to film until about eight or nine years ago, after a very long history in video, TV production and news presenting.


Throughout all his experiences in film presenting for factual programming, directing and writing, Tui shared, 


“I am a producer at heart. And, producing is where it lies.” 


Being a Māori producer in the filmmaking world, what is that like? We had to ask the question. 


“It's been very good in New Zealand.” He said. “Most of the top 10 films in New Zealand have either been made by Māori or tell Māori stories. There is a recognition that Māori are a key differentiator in the international market.”


He also explained that these films with Māori content resonate with New Zealand audiences, but, what has been lacking is an actual focus development of Māori filmmakers supported by specific funding. 


“So, I have benefitted from the reputation that Māori films have had and have received personal support as I have been developing a career as Māori producer.” He said. “There’s not a lot of focused financial support, even though it’s recognized that Māori film is a key part of New Zealand’s voice.” 


However, there have been recent changes with reasonable amounts of money being focused on Māori filmmakers. 


“I have been very fortunate to have received a lot of support as I’ve gone down the path as a film producer,” Tui said.


Why is it important to have Pacific Islander representation in media? A big question in today’s world. Now, asking Tui that question was also a must. 


“It’s a voice that needs to be heard. The world is made up of many different peoples, and many different stories.” He said. “Pacific Islander isn’t like any other voice, and it needs to be heard. Pacific Islanders have great stories to tell.” 


He also shared with us that in New Zealand, they are in a very special situation in which they are a related partner with the country’s government. Tui explained, that because of the Treaty of Waitangi, which lays out the relationship between the Crown and Māori, there are obligations on the New Zealand Government in terms of Māori having a voice in the New Zealand society. This also extends into the film world for Māori, therefore there is a right and they are accorded for their voices to be heard through film. While the support is not great, there is some and it is improving. 


“Māori filmmaking, when you look back and Merata Mita for example, who led the way for us.” He said. “There has been a quiet period in Māori filmmakers, and every once in a while someone pops up. It’s only sort of recently that there are more emerging Māori filmmakers than there have been in the past. Taika [Waititi] is one, and Tearepa [Kahi] is one.” 


Even with the lack of filmmaker support and lack of talent development, Tui again mentions that there is more of a drive towards providing this now. 


"We are starting to see more filmmakers coming through the short film space," he explained. "But not really yet in the feature film space. But, it's coming. There is a more specific fund for feature filmmaking. We'll see more feature films in the not too distant future."


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