Kiwi director Lee Tamahori's first New Zealand film in 20 years has premiered in Auckland.

Star Temuera Morrison was among New Zealand celebrities who turned out for the premiere of Mahana last night at Hoyts Cinema at Sylvia Park, Mt Wellington.

Tamahori is best known for directing iconic Kiwi 1990s film Once Were Warriors, in which Morrison also starred, and the James Bond thriller Die Another Day.

Akuhata Keefe and co star Temuera Morrison. Photo / Michael Craig
Akuhata Keefe and co star Temuera Morrison. Photo / Michael Craig

Mahana

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, an adaptation of Witi Ihimaera's 1994 novel

Bulibasha: King of the Gypsies

, is about two Maori sheep-shearing families, the Mahanas and the Poatas, who battle for supremacy in the shearing sheds in 1960s rural New Zealand.

Singers perform at the premiere of Mahana. Photo / Michael Craig
Singers perform at the premiere of Mahana. Photo / Michael Craig

The youngest Mahana, Simeon, 14, is troubled by the rivalry and begins to unravel the truth behind the long-standing feud.

The film received mixed reviews after it was shown at the Berlin Film Festival. Henry Barnes, of the Guardian, called it "a handsome melodrama".

"Mahana is a touch simplistic and very romantic. But it does what it does with skill."

But Wendy Ide, of Screen Daily, called it an "overblown Maori pot-boiler" that could double as a "feature-length travel advertisement for the verdant beauty of rural New Zealand".

Akuhata Keefe, Haare Williams and Temuera Morrison. Photo / Michael Craig
Akuhata Keefe, Haare Williams and Temuera Morrison. Photo / Michael Craig

"While the child protagonist and a decorative garnish of magical realism made Whale Rider a viewing option for a family audience, Mahana combines a lack of storytelling sophistication, which will be off-putting for adult viewers, with some thematic elements ... which make it unsuitable for children.

Still from Mahana. Photo / Supplied
Still from Mahana. Photo / Supplied

"As such, it's difficult to work out at whom the picture is targeted. Commercial prospects outside of New Zealand would seem limited."

A scene from the film, Mahana.
A scene from the film, Mahana.

David Rooney, of the Hollywood Reporter, said the film had "a lot of conflicting impulses".

"[The] on-the-nose dialogue, ripe melodrama and pre-programmed emotional responses will test all but the most forgiving viewers."

Mahana

opens in New Zealand cinemas on March 3.