An acclaimed New Zealand film director and producer headlining an international film festival this week has always stayed true to her Horowhenua roots.
Hiona Henare's latest documentary, a short film titled Ruahine: Stories In Her Skin, was shot entirely in Horowhenua and features members of her whanau and Muaūpoko iwi.
"It's made in Levin. It's something for our entire community to celebrate," she said.
Ruahine: Stories in her Skin follows the ceremony of two women receiving their traditional moko kauae, a sacred female facial tattoo.
The film's subjects, Anahera Winiata and Janice Cherie Pania Eriha, became accidental celebrities when they travelled with Henare to the Asinabka Film & Media Arts Festival in Ottawa for the international premiere of their film.
Henare said Eriha and Winiata were treated like rock stars because people were drawn to their moko kauae (chin tattoo). What was going to be a short holiday turned into a surreal experience.
"We were received so well. They were celebrities. They were swarmed at every event. I felt sorry for them ... but I think they were loving it," she said.
Henare said she was proud that Ruahine: Stories in her Skin was made by women, shot by women and featured women.
The film also won a Jury Grand Prix award at this year's international FIFO film festival in Tahiti.
In the film, Muaūpoko tā moko artist Sian Montgomery-Neutze was giving her first-ever moko kauae. The ceremony took place at Pariri Pā in Levin and Henare was able to capture the experience uninhibited.
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For Māori women, receiving their traditional moko kauae meant they were visually asserting their birthright and identity, while celebrating the mana of their whakapapa.
In Māori tradition, the head is considered the most tapu (sacred) part of the human body, making the practice of moko kauae prestigious and exclusive to Māori women.
Henare, of Muaūpoko and Ngati Raukawa descent, is a former student of Waiopehu College.
She was brought up in a family that encouraged performance. They were immersed in the music and the arts.
Her parents Arthur and Pirihira Henare were well known musicians in the region so it's no surprise the youngest of eight children relishes being in the limelight.
Pirihira Henare and her sisters Diane and Kathy were the famous Warren Sisters, a singing trio from the 1960s that often gave live performances and released their own singles on LP with the help of Wally Clark at the Levin Record Studios.
Henare said all that creativity certainly had an influence in her upbringing.
"There were always people in our garage jamming on instruments. We were brought up on black culture music and art ... and there was always a video camera too," she said.
When local filmmaker, the late Mike Walker, produced a series of cult films in the 1980s and used local actors where he could, many whanau were involved in either Kingpin, Kingi's Story, or the award-winning telemovie Mark II.
At the age of 4, she had cameo roles in those productions. And her father featured in Mark II, and appeared in several other films and tele shows.
"I'd go to all his film shoots and hang out and watch him film his scenes ... and then we'd eat the yummy film set food and jump in the car and drive home to Levin," she said.
On leaving school, Henare moved into theatre. Finding that most people wanted to perform like her, she gravitated to the production of theatre and dance shows and was gradually lured by the power of film, which led to an "aha" moment.
"I thought - I know how to do this. I can produce my own films," she said, and enrolled at South Sea Film and Television School in Auckland.
"And that was a really good experience. I learned the technicalities of cinematography and editing," she said
Her first short film URU made at film school was selected for ImagineNATIVE film festival in Toronto in 2011, and she has since travelled the world attending film festivals and film labs.
"I am inspired by what I see in the world around me, and film is really my social and spiritual and political and cultural response to the things that I feel and connect with."
While Henare, 45, spent years living in Auckland, she said she liked making films about home and family. That was her kaupapa, and it was easier to make films at home, too.
"You know the landscapes. You know the light. And you know the community, where to call on for help, and I like to help upskill people so they can learn how the industry works," she said.
Henare was one of the organisers for the 2019 Youth Space 72 Hour Film Challenge and gave classes to young students at Te Takeretanga o Kura-hau-pō covering aspects of filmmaking such as scripting, casting, working with actors, telling a visual story and organising a production team.
Ruahine: Stories in their Skin made the 2020 Documentary Edge International Film Festival, which is now moved online due to Covid-19 and runs from June 12 to July 5.
Traditionally presented in Auckland and Wellington only, this year's nationwide online programme is complete with scheduled screenings, live and interactive question-and-answer sessions with filmmakers, free screenings for schools, and an awards show.
Meanwhile, Henare received funding from the Lottery Grant Board to produce a four-part series of short films, which she is preparing to shoot later in the year, based on the untold stories of her famous ancestor Tūteremoana.
She is also known for producing films Native In Nuhaka (2018), Spirit Women (2019) and I Am Paradise (2020), while other films she had produced have won a host of awards, starting with the Audience Choice Award and Best Actress Award at the 2010 Wairoa Māori Film Festival.
Henare has received the NZFC Huia Publishers Pikihuia Highly Commended Script Award; the Southseas NZ student film award for Best Film Production, and the Australian Solid screen award for Contribution to Screen Arts.
In 2019 she received the Best International Indigenous Documentary Award at the Wairoa Māori Film Festival, and represented Māori filmmakers at Berlinale Talents in 2014 and the international Interdoc Documentary Masterclass in Serbia in 2016.
She was a participant of the 2018 DEGNZ Women director's incubator. And in February Hiona returned to Berlinale Talents 2020 as an Alumni filmmaker.
Henare is currently in script development for her first dramatic feature-length film HALO, based on the story of Tahitian navigator, Whatonga, and his wife Hotuwaipara.
Ruahine: Stories In Her Skin will have two online screenings - at 6pm on Monday, June 15, and 5pm on Wednesday, June 24. Tickets are $11.28 via eventfinda.co.nz
A full list of films was available at https://festival.docedge.nz/