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.

Set in the East Coast town of Whāngārā, Whale Rider tells the tale of Pai (Keisha Castle-Hughes), a young Māori girl who challenges the past in order to find the strength to lead her people forward.

Directed and written by Niki Caro, the film is based on Witi Ihimaera's novel The Whale Rider. Combining a unique sense of place and culture with a universal coming-of-age story, Whale Rider connected with audiences around the world, drawing plenty of international acclaim.

Here director Niki Caro remembers bypassing much of the film's offshore success, due to being pregnant with her first child.

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You can watch the original trailer for Whale Rider here: