By AIDAN RASMUSSEN
Reina Webster’s stress over having only three weeks to find the remaining $90,000 for tuition at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts film programme is wearing her out.
“In order to get a visa I need to come up with my first year’s worth of funding, which is $140,000,” she says.
The former JuiceTV presenter’s eyes moisten as she recounts having sold everything she owned, quit her job and put her University of Auckland masters thesis on hold in the search for funding the first year of a five-year course from which Spike Lee, Martin Scorsese, and Oliver Stone graduated.
“There’s a real possibility that I’m going to be at Auckland airport with two suitcases, no job, no house and a whole lot of money people have given me for the cause — without being able to do it,” Webster says.
Of mixed Maori and Pakeha descent, but adopted into an unrelated Ngati Puhi and Tuwharetoa family, she is unable to produce the evidence of her ancestry that would enable her to apply for grants.
The 28-year-old has explored every avenue available: Creative New Zealand, the Film Commission, the Minister of Maori Affairs, and the Minister of Education — but to no avail.
As a consolation she did win the $5000 Nokia film-maker scholarship at the Nokia Film Awards on Saturday, adding to the $50,000 already raised.
The frustration of missing being taught cinematography by Scorsese, or Spike Lee’s guidance in translating minority issues into mainstream cinema — graduates lecture for a short period each year — is obvious as she pushes her short locks behind her ears.
She smiles, but you can imagine her disappointment at possibly turning down the opportunity of studying the whole film-making process — lighting, editing, cinematography and directing. Or worse, missing the chance of having somebody like Jim Jarmusch or Ang Lee as a mentor.
Explaining why one of the top schools would offer a place to a former pharmacy assistant, Webster says: “We come from a place unlike anywhere else, we see things slightly differently, and they liked my point of view.”
But it must also be because of her straight As at university and because she flew to New York for a 25-minute interview. Or it could be her willingness, while away, to help lift the profile of this country and its indigenous people and bring back her skills to share with the film community.
“I’m absolutely driven by this desire to represent us,” Webster says “It’s time to remedy the under-representation of Maori and get Maori people to talk about it themselves, not have pakeha people try and tell our stories again. I intend on taking very detailed notes when I’m over there so I can transfer them back here. Knowledge — there’s nothing sacred about that; if you’ve got it, pass it on.”
The irony of this statement, if Webster doesn’t find the money, should not go unnoticed.