Four Kiwi film directors premiered their work at the Toronto International Film Festival this week and Aotearoa has its own new rising star.
With directors not being part of the US current strikes, Taika Waititi’s Next Goal Wins, Lee Tamahori’s The Convert and Hamish Bennett and Paul Middleditch’s Uproar have all had attention and praise from critics around the world.
The Convert and Uproar have no big studio affiliations, which has heightened their exposure at the festival, thanks to the WGA (Writers Guild of America) and SAG-AFTRA’s (Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists) stand-off with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP).
Waititi had to tread a tighter rope. He was the star at the festival four years after he premiered JoJo Rabbit, with his long-awaited Next Goal Wins - the football dramedy based on the American Samoa team’s Fifa World Cup qualifier, which is a Disney production.
Instead of its star Michael Fassbender taking to the stage with the director, Waititi appeared on stage with the movie’s real-life characters, Thomas Rongen, the Dutch coach played by Fassbender in the film, and Jaiyah Saelua, the first openly non-binary and trans-woman to compete in a Fifa World Cup qualifier.
Aussie Hollywood star Guy Pearce wore a greenstone and showed off what looked to be traditional tā moko on his inner forearms when he posed with co-stars Tioreore Ngatai-Melbourne, Jacqueline McKenzie and Tamahori.
Ngatai-Melbourne was chosen as one of the eight Rising Stars of the festival.
“It’s electric, it’s fun, it’s tiring and a great opportunity,” Ngatai-Melbourne told media at TIFF.
She said she wasn’t quite sure what a Rising Star was supposed to do at TIFF but added she was feeling very grateful, fortunate and lucky to be there.
The wahine Māori was proud to play lead character Rangimai in the movie set in the early 1800s New Zealand in the middle of a bloody war between Māori tribes, alongside lay preacher Thomas Munro, played by Pearce.
Ngatai-Melbourne’s list of credits includes TV work as well as the movie Whina. She has also directed a short film, E Rangi Rā, that has travelled to international film festivals.
It is eight years since Ngatai-Melbourne’s debut at the age of 13 in Waititi’s Hunt for the Wilderpeople alongside Julian Dennison and Rhys Darby, who are starring in Uproar. The movie set in 1981, is based on the protests over the Springboks’ rugby tour in New Zealand.
Dennison and Darby were not in Toronto for the Uproar premiere, nor was their co-star Minnie Driver. However, co-directors Hamish Bennett and Paul Middleditch were there to show off their film and receive their accolades.