The screams from the fans may have been for Temuera Morrison outside the world premiere of Mahana at the Berlin Film Festival on Saturday night.

And Morrison - with his young co-star Akuhata Keefe - replied with a red carpet haka, then repeated it at the post-screening press conference.

But it's Keefe who is the stand-out in Lee Tamahori's new film, based on Whale Rider author Witi Ihimaera's novel Bulibasha.

Keefe plays Simeon, the grandson of Morrison's family elder in the film and is a stubborn chip off the old block.


The 15 year-old who was 14 when he made the film, dwarfed Morrison on the press conference podium and has the same kind of mellow personality as a younger James Rolleston.

The kid, who had no prior experience when Tamahori plucked him from obscurity, can act.

Keefe puts it down to performing kapa haka as he was growing up. Morrison says Keefeis a natural performer like Rolleston.

"I think it's to do with the love of their culture because they're used to being there with their backs straight, projecting an energy and singing."

The film itself is solid if unexpected. Nobody quite imagined the 007 and action director to deliver what's a classic family drama.

Tamahori says that Ihimaera's novel follows a familiar theme, about the young rebelling against the old and the old traditions.

"A lot of people have read it, but it's not one of his more seminal works. But it spoke a lot to me and there are a lot of elements in it that touched on my own memories.

"The character of Simeon is effectively a version of Witi himself. Witi came from a small rural environment and a family of sheep shearers and he had an intellect and struggled to move away from a rural environment into a university education."

Mahana is due to open in New Zealand on March 3.