He's shown the world who we are, and now filmmaker Taika Waititi has been named the 2017 Kiwibank New Zealander of the Year.

And, he's reacted in typically Kiwi fashion.

Humbly.

Waititi is in Los Angeles directing the latest instalment of Marvel's Thor series and wasn't able to travel home to receive the award - it was instead presented to his wife, Chelsea Winstanley, by Prime Minister Bill English.

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But the Hunt for the WIlderpeople and Boy director told the New Zealand Herald by phone that he was "really happy and proud" to be chosen.

"It's a great honour and, yeah, It's pretty unexpected. I think if you're nominated for something like this, even if you won it's obviously a big surprise and sometimes you feel a bit like there's probably someone else more deserving, but at the same time, I'll take it.

"I'll humbly accept."

Although he had thoughts that others were more deserving, he also thought art was important and deserving of value.

"I think it's really important what artists and filmmakers and our writers, what they do for putting New Zealand culture on the map."

Waititi wrote the screenplay, acted and directed Hunt for the Wilderpeople, starring, Julian Dennison, left, and Sam Neill. Photo / File
Waititi wrote the screenplay, acted and directed Hunt for the Wilderpeople, starring, Julian Dennison, left, and Sam Neill. Photo / File

Chief judge Cameron Bennett said Waititi was an "exciting and inspiring example of who and what we are as Kiwis".

"Creative, courageous, audacious, subversive and downright funny, he's at the
forefront of New Zealand filmmaking and the arts.

"Taika's outstanding contribution has not only been rewarded with record box-office success at home - he's also been highly successful in showcasing who and what we are to the world."

Waititi's wife, accompanied by Hunt for the WIlderpeople's young breakout star Julian Dennison, also collected the Kiwibank kaitaka huaki cloak, Pouhine, from last year's New Zealander of the Year, Richie McCaw, on her husband's behalf.

Waititi said tonight that he made his own films for Kiwis, but it was a nice surprise when they won a wider audience.

"I make my films mainly for New Zealanders, that's who I think about first when I try to make my films. Will it be relatable to my audience, and my audience are Kiwis first and foremost.

"It does make you very proud and puts a bit more faith in your own work when your stories travel. So when my films are appreciated around the world not only do I feel more confident and proud of my filmmaking, but also I'm taking the New Zealand voice out there and sharing it with the world, and as a representative of my country that also makes me very proud."

The 41-year-old, who is also a champion for engaging youth in the arts and has spoken publicly about youth suicide and child poverty, said with an early start for work he would not be celebrating immediately, but plans would be made.

"It's pretty late for me right now, I think I'm just going to go to bed and I'll gather a group of Kiwis and we'll get together in the next night or two."

He will be working on Thor until October or November, after which he plans to return to New Zealand and do one of his own projects.

The 2005 Oscar nominee had a couple of his own scripts to choose from, and didn't want to say too much, but said they would be "in the same vein" as his own films.

Two other high-achieving Kiwis were finalists for the supreme award.

They were an educator and researcher, Professor Mere Berryman, and the Salvation Army's social policy and parliamentary unit principal adviser, Major Campbell Roberts.

Winners were also announced tonight in five other categories.

Lawyer Rez Gardi is the Young New Zealander of the Year. File photo / Doug Sherring
Lawyer Rez Gardi is the Young New Zealander of the Year. File photo / Doug Sherring

Auckland lawyer Rez Gardi, who came to New Zealand as a refugee aged 6, was named Young New Zealander of the Year for services to human rights, and former Royal New Zealand Ballet general manager Sue Paterson was chosen as Senior New Zealander of the Year.

The Wellington woman was recognised for her services to the arts.

Auckland doctor Ed Gane, who led a team that developed a cure for hepatitis C, is the 2017 Innovator of the Year for services to health.

Another Aucklander, Hayden Smith, a tireless advocate for cleaning up our marine environments, is the 2017 Local Hero of the Year for services to conservation.

Community of the Year is Randwick Park in South Auckland.

The community came under a dark cloud with the 2008 murder of store owner Navtej Singh, but a small group of residents has worked together to transform the tiny suburb into a place where residents, especially youth, are encouraged and supported, according to New Zealander of the Year category biographies.

There were 375 nominations for this year's awards.