To mark the 40th anniversary of the New Zealand Film Commission, NZ On Screen brings us the stories behind some of our most notable local films.

Adapted from the best-selling Alan Duff novel, Once Were Warriors painted a very different picture of New Zealand to the one cinemagoers had previously become familiar with.

Director Lee Tamahori's hard-hitting depiction of domestic and gang violence drew audiences around the world, providing career-defining roles for Temuera Morrison and Rena Owen as Jake the Muss and Beth Heke.

Twenty-four years on, it remains one of New Zealand's top 10 most watched local films.


Here Rena Owen reveals why it was her privilege, but not necessarily her pleasure, to play Beth.

You can watch the US trailer for Once Were Warriors here: