A New Zealand movie exploring the complexity of child abuse and themes of culture, custom, and shame is set to hit the big screen this month.

Waru (meaning eight) shows its viewers a single death through the differing lenses of extended whanau, the community and national media. The differing lenses are provided by the films' eight female Maori directors, each given a 10-minute time frame to share their insight into child abuse.

At the heart of their stories is Waru, a boy killed at the hands of a caregiver. His tangi, set on a small rural marae, is the centrepiece of the film, but the eight stories weave the multiple reactions to his death together.

One of the eight women is Whakatane's Ainsley Gardiner, better known for her production roles alongside Taika Waititi in Boy, Eagle VS Shark and Two Cars, One Night. Gardiner also produced Pa Boys.

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"I have to admit I didn't want to do Waru," Gardiner told the Rotorua Daily Post. "I didn't want to make a film about child abuse. In fact, I was almost indignant someone would try to bring Maori women together and that's the story they wanted to tell - of all the stories - that story."

Ainsley Gardiner on the set of the film.
Ainsley Gardiner on the set of the film.

She said she quite selfishly agreed to take part in Waru to upskill herself.

"But it turned out to be an amazing experience. Not only is it the first time in 28 years a film has been written and directed by Maori women, the last was Mauri by Merata Mita, I absolutely believe Waru has the potential to contribute to New Zealand's child abuse conversation in a meaningful way."

She said she completed production of the film believing if people should be brought together to talk about the country's appalling rates of child abuse, it should be women and, in particular Maori women, who sit round the table and have that conversation. Not male politicians.

Waru made its international debut to a packed cinema at the Toronto International Film Festival last week and received a standing ovation. It also received a great review from the Hollywood Reporter and has been described by Maori issues journalist Mihingarangi Forbes as a hugely important film.

The movie will be released in New Zealand on October 19.