It's fortunate that Taika Waititi found his way into filmmaking, as the acclaimed Kiwi director described himself as an out of work "seaweed diver" before he found his true calling.

Waititi explained he was fortunate to make a career from writing and directing films, as he spoke after receiving the prestigious TIFF Ebert Director award at a Tribute Gala awards event at the Toronto International Film Festival today.

The recognition caps a huge couple of days for the 44-year-old, following the acclaim that came his way after yesterday's world premiere of his new movie Jojo Rabbit – a satirical black comedy in which he plays Adolf Hitler.

Taika Waititi receives the TIFF Ebert Director Award at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival. Photo / Getty Images.
Taika Waititi receives the TIFF Ebert Director Award at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival. Photo / Getty Images.

"This is a huge honour," Waititi told the audience after being presented with the award from Mexican filmmaker Guillermo del Toro.

Advertisement

"I've been thinking about what to say. I come from New Zealand where we really don't like attention."

Waititi went on to free-style through an entertaining and suitably quirky speech that had the crowd laughing and hanging off his every word.

He explained he felt fortunate to have made his way in the New Zealand film industry before establishing himself as one of the Hollywood's most sought after directors. Movie making did not seem like a viable career path when he first left school in the 80s.

"Filmmaking was not on any list of job opportunities," he said.

"Film – not even acting, not dancing. I think when I went to get on the dole when I left high school, they said 'what are you good at' and I said 'I'm good at diving for seaweed'.

"That's what I put down and so I didn't work for a long, long time. I started making films when I was about 30 after a very tragic attempt at being a seaweed diver."

Chaz Ebert and Guillermo del Toro present the TIFF Ebert Director Award to Taika Waititi. Photo / Getty Images.
Chaz Ebert and Guillermo del Toro present the TIFF Ebert Director Award to Taika Waititi. Photo / Getty Images.

Waititi's speech briefly ventured into serious territory when he reflected on the opportunities his career had afforded him. It didn't last long however, as he began joking about the clean green depictions of his homeland that featured on the big screens as his award was being announced.

"But what I've really learned from being in this industry, having jobs and having opportunities to do these films, and from being able to tell stories in my own particular way, I do feel extremely lucky," he said.

Advertisement

"Coming from an Indigenous native community in New Zealand I really do feel like I get to tell our stories, and I was very struck by watching the pictures there – New Zealand just has so much grass and trees, I never realised how many tress and stuff there are there.

"But being afforded these opportunities here outside of New Zealand, I never…it's never wasted on me."

The Thor: Ragnarok director continued to crack jokes before rounding out his speech by attempting to 'drop the mic' which was fixed to the lectern.

Sam Rockwell, Taika Waititi, and Roman Griffin Davis in Jojo Rabbit. Photo / Supplied.
Sam Rockwell, Taika Waititi, and Roman Griffin Davis in Jojo Rabbit. Photo / Supplied.

"The thing I'm most grateful for is that everyone stopped clinking their knives and forks on those plates. When we first got in here – did you hear that?

"Thank you so much TIFF for having me. I really appreciate this and it's so lovely to feel so much love at this festival and… long live New Zealand! Thank you."

Earlier, TIFF Executive Director and Co-Head Joana Vicente lauded Waititi's creative spirit and detailed why the festival had chosen to honour the talented Kiwi.

"Because we felt he's just an incredible, original, unique voice and we felt his film was important," she said.

"Taika is just a fabulous filmmaker and people love his work. [Jojo Rabbit] is really special, it's one of my favourites.

"I loved it. I loved what I felt and I loved the range of emotions and I found it incredibly original.

"I got out of that film and I was touched, it made me think about things."