The highly anticipated New Zealand film Cousins is going ahead with it's world premiere tonight at Reading Cinemas in Rotorua.
The film is an adaptation of the Cousins novel written by Patricia Grace, which follows the journey of three girl cousins thrown together as children, who grow apart as women but eventually find their long lost connection to one another.
Co-Director and actor in the film Briar Grace-Smith says she's pleased to finally be celebrating the release of the film since the book was released in 1992.
"It's been such a long time since the book was written and then Merata Mita tried to make it into a film and finally it came into our hands. And I guess you're looking at 30 odd years for it to make it to this point. So it really deserves a celebration that it's been made.
Grace-Smith teamed up with critically acclaimed movie producer Ainsley Gardiner to co-direct the film with her.
Handing down the mantle
Gardiner says Merata Mita, who had originally planned to write and direct Cousins, had shared her screenplay with Gardiner 16 years ago.
"So when she passed, and when Briar reintroduced me to the film, I felt a certain call to arms to finish what Merata had started - an adaptation to the book," Gardiner says.
"And that's where Briar and I came on the project together."
Merata Mita who passed away in 2010, was a pioneer Māori filmmaker who made films like Bastion Point: Day 507 and co-produced Taika Waititi's Boy alongside Ainsley Gardiner.
Grace-Smith says, "I used to listen to Merata, she was a mentor of both mine and Ainsley. And I was very used to her speaking about the film, and Patricia Grace speaking about the film and knowing how much it meant to them. And so after Merata passed, it felt like a real shame not to have that dream realised. So that was the reason for both of us to try and put some effort in to getting it done."
But both Grace-Smith and Gardiner never intended on co-directing the film when they first teamed up to make it.
From writer, to director then actor
Grace-Smith wrote the latest adaptation of Cousins and Gardiner had assumed the role of producer. But then both felt it only right that they support one another as co-directors of the film.
Grace-Smith says, "At the beginning of this we didn't consider ourselves upskilled enough to take on the direction of Cousins which is, I have to say, an incredibly epic film."
The movie doesn't focus on one lead character, and has over 90 speaking roles.
Grace-Smith says she never intended on becoming an actor in the film. Her close friend, award-winning actor Nancy Brunning, was originally cast in the film but became unwell and passed away in 2019.
"So it was kind of a case for me, having to step up," says Grace-Smith.
"There were lots of amazing actresses who auditioned. And I ended up trying hard to not get the part. But it was a part I knew because I was involved in writing the adaptation. So I knew this character and what she carried."
But when Grace-Smith was cast in the film, she says she had to rely on Gardiner's direction to help her fulfill the role.
World Premiere despite Covid
Grace-Smith says, "I didn't think we would have the premiere but I think we've all just learnt to roll with the waves."
To meet level 2 guidelines, guests attending the premiere will be staggered in their arrivals. Guests are advised to refrain from physical contact (hongi, kissing, hugging) outside of their own bubbles. Physical distancing, of two metres, will also be in place outside of people's bubbles.
Food and drink is also monitored and made individual (e.g. no canapés). Invitees have also been advised to stay home if they feel unwell.
Co-Directors Briar Grace Smith and Ainsley Gardiner are at tonight's premiere, along with powerhouse actors and rising stars Tanea Heke, Rachel House, Miriama Smith,Tioreore Ngatai-Melbourne, Hariata Moriaty.
Cousins is now available in cinemas across the country.
Mata, Missy and Makareta. Three cousins. Three lives. Separate, yet bound
Orphaned Mata believes she has no whānau and lives out her lonely childhood in fear and
bewilderment. Back home on the land, educated Makareta flees an arranged marriage to
study law and begin the search for her missing cousin.
She leaves behind cheeky yet dutiful Missy who takes on her role of kaitiaki (guardian) of the land. As the years pass and land surveyors begin to encroach, their promise to bring their stolen cousin home seems more unlikely than ever, until a chance encounter changes everything.
Cousins is in cinemas on March 4.