An acclaimed Northland actress is starring in a movie playing another well-known Northlander and one of New Zealand's most revered leaders.
Rena Owen will play Māori activist Dame Whina Cooper in New Zealand drama feature film Whina, set for release next year.
Moerewa-raised Owen shot to fame in New Zealand film Once Were Warriors in the 90s, after which she has enjoyed a successful international career.
She has recently finishing filming Whina for New Zealand and Australian company Transmission Films about the revered Māori activist and female rights advocate. The drama was filmed entirely on location in New Zealand, including Panguru and Waitangi.
Whina will see Owen play the role of Cooper, the beloved Māori matriarch who worked tirelessly to improve the rights of her people, especially women.
At nearly 80, Cooper became nationally celebrated as e Whaea o Te Motu, or the Mother of the Nation, when she led the first Māori Land March over 1,000 kilometres from Te Hapua in the Far North to Wellington at the bottom of the North Island in 1975. One of the executive producers of the film is Cooper's granddaughter Irenee Cooper, pictured as a three-year-old setting off with her grandmother on the trek.
In 1991 Dame Whina was appointed to the Order of New Zealand, the nation's highest honour. The Panguru-born kuia died in 1994 aged 98 at her birthplace in the Hokianga.
The movie drama tackles issues such as traditional gender and cultural roles in New Zealand society, racism, land rights activism, female empowerment and justice and equality.
Through the eyes of an older Cooper, the film looks back on the formative years of the icon of New Zealand's political history as she broke gender boundaries and fought for the recognition of her own culture, all the while staying true to her heart and her beliefs.
As well as playing Beth Heke alongside Temuera Morrison in Once Were Warriors, along with the film's sequel What Becomes of the Broken Hearted, Owen's long and successful career has included Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones and, more recently, the thriller series Siren.
The film Whina also stars James Rolleston, from Boy, The Dark Horse and Goodbye Pork Pie. Playing the younger Whina is Miriama McDowell, of The Dark Horse and No.2, Vinnie Bennett, from Fast & Furious 9 and Filthy Rich, and Tioreore Ngatai-Melbourne from Hunt for the Wilderpeople.
Whina heralds writer-directors James Napier Robertson, who directed 2014 favourite The Dark Horse, and Paula Whetu Jones, known for recent New Zealand release Waru. Robertson and Whetu Jones co-wrote the script with James Lucas, whose short film The Phone Call won an Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film in 2015.
It was produced by Matthew Metcalfe (McLaren) and Tainui Stephens (The Dead Lands).
Funded by Ingenious Media and the New Zealand Film Commission, Whina, which is currently in post-production, was shot entirely on location in New Zealand, with a majority Māori cast and crew, and will be released in Australia and New Zealand by Transmission Films.