Communicado founder Robin Scholes, one of the country’s foremost TV and film producers, is responsible for many of our most-loved films including Rain, Mr Pip — and Once Were Warriors, which celebrates its 20th year next week. She is a survivor of violence and recently widowed.

1.What was the Orakei of your childhood like?

It was so different. We all had these state houses with extraordinary views of the harbour and about an acre of land around each. The treasure was those sections and everyone had vege gardens, chooks, fruit trees. The women would get together and play cards or bottle peaches. My mum worked because she was a widow and I was minded by a Maori woman down the road, Grandma Rowe, who was hooked on [radio soap opera] Portia Faces Life. It was mandatory to sit down and listen to that with a milky kind of drink she made. Yes, my childhood memories are completely different to the state houses of Once Were Warriors, which was based on Rotorua's Ford Block, which sounds like it was one of those cheap housing areas that people were herded into, that didn't have a common space, and there were no gardens.

2.How had your father died?

He got tuberculosis immediately after my mother conceived me and died when I was about 5. He was absent most of my life. He had started a business, Irish Linen, selling wedding trousseaus to young women and my mother did well with that after he died. No, no siblings but I had a large extended family, all the people around us, Grandma Rowe looking after me, a big extended family. My first job after leaving school was as a travelling saleswoman for Irish Linen. The engagements would be published in the paper, you'd ring them up and then go and sell in their homes. I made so much money.


3.Is Scholes your family name?

No, that's from a lovely guy I married when I was 19. I was married about two years. We were both so young, unable to be married really. I was restless. It was never not amicable but I just moved out. I got married again to another man, and that didn't last very long either, but then I met Ivano Bargiacchi, who is the love of my life, when I was about 30. I met him the night before [Parnell Panther] Mark Stephens invaded my house. It was the worst and best of times. Ivano was one of the only people who had the guts to come and see me in hospital. My memory is of him standing at the door holding a bright yellow bunch of flowers.

4.Did you almost die in that attack?

The cops said, "He left you for dead", because he cut all the phone lines so I couldn't call out. The most extraordinary thing is the revelation of the instincts we all have inside us, far beyond our normal intelligence. Somehow, though I was unconscious, I went to my next door neighbour's and knocked. They didn't recognise me of course, because I was so badly beaten, but they recognised my jersey. I don't remember any of that. There is that primal survival instinct in all of us but in normal everyday life you don't have an opportunity to experience it.

5.Did you seek counselling after that?

Not really. I felt the counsellors would have no comparable experience and I relied on finding my own tools, the strength within myself, to overcome that victimisation. I found it in things like the metaphor of the pearl, of how the oyster takes in an irritant - sand - and turns it into something beautiful. Insofar as bad things happen to people, it's up to them to take the experience and turn it into something richer and more beautiful. A way to continue to live with optimism and hope. I did that with love, with Ivano. We fell deeply in love and that was the main thing.

6.How long were you together?

Almost 30 years. He died in 2013 and I'm still learning to live without him. I don't think it's something you can pull out of - I think grief and loss are something you learn to live with, especially so it doesn't become a burden on others. It's very raw. When you're really in love with someone, you grow together. You're entwined. And when that person goes, you feel part of your core has been cut away. That sense of intimacy and opening yourself unreservedly to another person is an extraordinary thing to have. It's difficult to have it leave.


7.Did you have children?

No, Ivano had had children and didn't want more. We made a conscious decision not to. Inevitably, earlier on we were both very career-focused and when he got sick, 10 years before he died, work became something more and more that he wanted me to do. He felt it would be a comfort to me when he died. The work I do and the people I work with are always a joy but I find myself questioning everything now, questioning my purpose in life, because your purpose has been to be with that person.

8.What does Once Were Warriors mean to you all these years on?

More than anything, I appreciate Lee [Tamahori]'s talent as a film-maker. He had very little money and very little time. We were shooting on film - and film stock and processing are expensive. In today's digital world, you can shoot a lot of material and therefore have a lot of choices when you come to editing the film together.

With limited film stock he had to decide on how the scene would cut together before he began shooting.

In some cases he would have only one option.

This is almost unheard of today - most directors will give themselves multiple options so they can have choices in the cutting room.

9.Are Maori stories now easier to tell?

When we made Warriors, the main distributors at the time believed that films with Maori stories would not succeed at the box office. We busted that myth but I don't think it made it any easier to raise funding for larger-budget Maori stories. I'm nearing the end of the funding process with Lee's next film, The Patriarch. It's an adaptation of Witi Ihimaera's wonderful book Bulibasha. It's like a Western, with horses and shearing gangs and families at war with one another - it needs big production values and it's been tough to get the money we need.

10.Were you always good at finding the money?

I don't think I am good at finding money. I think I find projects and people I really want to help out with and usually no one else wants to find the money.

11.What does ageing mean to you?

I'm not sure. I think it means I'm conscious that I need to fit in as much as possible in the next few years. I would like to take a break - I've been working continuously for five years - but just to think about all I want to do. Yes, absolutely, the stories to tell. It isn't a question of age for me, but health and energy. If you've got that you're really blessed.

12. What has been your greatest life lesson?

The power of love and how it can change and shape a life.

*A documentary produced by Scholes, Once Were Warriors - Where Are They Now? screens on Monday at 9.30pm on Maori Television. The original film, Once Were Warriors, screens on Sunday at 9.30pm and the sequel, What Becomes of the Broken Hearted?, on August 24 at 9.30pm.