A-List Hollywood director Ava DuVernay's film distribution company has acquired New Zealand documentary Merata: How Mum Decolonised The Screen.
Array Releasing, the distribution arm of Array, a film collective founded by DuVernay (A Wrinkle In Time), will distribute the film in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom this year, providing a huge boost to the film's chances to be seen by as wide an audience as possible.
Merata: How Mum Decolonised The Screen, which first screened at the New Zealand International Film Festival last year, is about trail-blazing Māori filmmaker Merata Mita (Patu!, Mauri), who died in 2010. It was directed by her youngest son, Heperi (Hepi) Mita.
Speaking to the Herald at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, where the film had its international premiere this morning, Merata producer Chelsea Winstanley said DuVernay was the perfect partner to get Merata out into the world.
"I reached out to her because I wanted to partner with someone who I thought was in complete synergy with Merata's legacy," said Winstanley. "And I just feel like Ava Duvernay and her philosophy, everything she's championing right now: representation, women, is completely in line with what Merata was trying to do in her lifetime. So it just seemed like the perfect fit."
Winstanley said DuVernay responded immediately to Merata.
"She loved the film and she loved the messages in it."
DuVernay has a previous connection to New Zealand: she shot parts of the Disney blockbuster A Wrinkle In Time in Otago in late 2016.
"She speaks very highly of New Zealand," Winstanley told the Herald. "She loved her time there. Hepi gifted her some beautiful pounamu earings the other night when we saw her. She was so excited. I brought her some Whittakers chocolate."
Winstanley said Merata went down extremely well at its first Sundance screening, which was also attended by legendary Māori actor Cliff Curtis, an executive producer on the film.
"It was really, really beautiful. Really good turn out, very emotional, people just loved it. Hepi got a standing ovation."
The announcement of the distribution deal comes on the same day that Māori filmmakers Briar Grace-Smith (Waru) and Ainsley Gardner (Boy, The Breaker Upperers) were announced as the recipients of the Sundance Institute Merata Mita Fellowship.
The pair, who are currently collaborating on a feature film, will receive cash grants and mentoring from the Sundance Institute. Mita was the director of the Sundance Institute's Indigenous Program from 2000 to 2009.