Finding the words to articulate the experience of watching a film like 'Whina' is no easy feat.
Powerful, uplifting, achingly beautiful, passionate and heartbreaking are just some of the kupu (words) that come to mind.
Last Thursday a small group of special guests were invited to attend an intimate pre-screening of the biopic, Whina, at Kaitaia's Te Ahu Centre.
Te Rarawa kaumatua welcomed the audience- which included one of the film's producers, Tainui Stephens and Whina's daughter, Hinerangi Cooper-Puru- with a special whakatau (welcome) and kōrero (stories) about Whina's remarkable life and ongoing legacy.
Whina (Hōhepine/Josephine) Cooper (nee Te Wake) was born in Te Karaka in northern Hokianga on December 9, 1895, and was the daughter of Heremia Te Wake, a leader of Ngāti Manawa and Te Kaitutae hapū of Te Rarawa and was the son of an American whaler.
Her mother, Kare Pauro Kawatihi, was of Te Rarawa and Taranaki descent.
As the daughter of a chief, Whina's leadership qualities quickly became apparent, with her taking on a number of local affairs and rising to become a leader of the northern Hokianga people.
The film, Whina, explores the extraordinary life of the iconic Māori leader, known for breaking gender boundaries, championing Māori rights and fighting for land - all while staying true to her heart and beliefs.
Her first introduction to Māori land issues came in the form of the land reform plan instituted by Sir Apirana Ngata in 1929, through which she also met her second husband, William 'Bill' Cooper.
Whina, or 'Te Whaea o te Motu' (Mother of the Nation), as she came to be known, caught the attention of the country and the world when in 1975 she led an 1100km hikoi/Land March from Te Hapua to Wellington protesting against stolen Māori land.
On October 13, 1975, around 5,000 marchers arrived at Parliament in Wellington, where Whina presented a petition signed by 60,000 people to then Prime Minister, Bill Rowling.
In addition to the iconic land march, Whina was also the first female president of a New Zealand rugby association, a former Federated Farmers president, founder of the Maori Women's Welfare League and honourary recipient of a Commander of the British Empire (CBE) for services to Māori and Dame of the British Empire.
Yet despite all of these accolades, the film's real champion is the love story between Whina and her late husband William, whose love was present in everything she did, even beyond his premature death in 1949.
Producer Tainui Stephens (Te Rarawa) said with all that in mind, bringing such an extraordinarily important and meaningful story back to Whina's home of the Far North last week was not lost on him.
Tainui is a New Zealand screen taonga (treasure) and has around 40 years of experience working in film and television, specialising in Māori storytelling.
His whānau originally hails from the Far North (Ahipara) but left shortly after World War II.
Tainui explained they relocated to Christchurch, and as a result, he had not received a traditionally Māori upbringing and was not familiar with Whina's story until later in life.
"I had no idea about my Māoriness, so while I knew of the story, I wasn't personally impacted," Tainui explained.
"For me, it was more the battle at Auckland's Bastion Point that was my awakening as I was a bit too young for the 1975 Land March.
"I've got a lot of gratitude for this opportunity because working in the world of stories has been a way to discover more about myself and what being Māori means."
Tainui, who co-produced the film with producer Matthew Metcalfe, said the movie's timing was poignant, given New Zealand was becoming more aware of its history and the world was starting to understand the importance of indigenous perspectives in many areas of life.
He added what was equally important to him was the opportunity to work with so many Māori throughout the experience.
"It's been a real delight to see our people getting experience and going off to work on other projects," he said.
"Our people are made for this business, and in my opinion, that was a really important by-product of a kaupapa like this."
A range of Far North locals also featured as extras in the film, including Te Aupōuri commercial manager Penetaui Kleskovic.
According to Tainui, Whina was a decade-long body of work and was only two out of around 60 films commissioned to continue through the Covid-19 pandemic.
Tainui said this was thanks to the film industry believing 'Whina' was a film the post-Covid-19 world needed to see and New Zealand a secure place to continue making films.
New Zealand director and writer James Napier Robertson directed the film with fellow director and writer Paula Whetu Jones, who gave the film a wāhine Māori perspective.
Both Paula and James also wrote the screenplay, along with Academy Award-winning writer and producer James Lucas.
World-famous Māori actress Rena Owen (Once Were Warriors/Star Wars) took on the role of Older Whina Cooper, with Miriama McDowell playing Younger Whina Cooper and Tioreore Ngatai-Melbourne as Teenage Whina Cooper.
While all women represented different stages of Whina's life, the transition from each scene to the next was seamless and made it easy to forget the role was shared by three separate actors.
Upcoming Māori actor Vinnie Bennett played Whina's second husband William Cooper, who recently featured as the young Dominic Toretto in Fast & Furious 9, the most recent of the film franchise.
Māori actor James Rolleston, famous for his debut role in Taika Waititi's film 'Boy', also featured in the film, playing the role of Whina's nephew.
Hinerangi Cooper-Puru said watching her mother's life play out on the big screen was a big honour and delight, and after seeing the final result was glad she and her brother Joseph agreed to it.
"I feel quite humbled and proud to be here and to have parents like mum and dad and the upbringing we had," she said.
"My mother belonged to the people. I'm so happy that we were able to share this film with everyone.
"Land was in my mother's blood and I think 1975 was an awakening for Māori and Pākeha. I think my mother would have been happy with this film and how it turned out."
Lisa McNab and Hilda Halkyard-Harawira were invited to attend the pre-screening and said Whina had been a powerful role model for Māori all over the motū (country).
"This means a lot. How many years is it since Dame Whina Cooper's land march? We still are seeing the same issues around land," Lisa said.
"This film is another tribute to all that she has done on behalf of all of us, not just here in Te Hiku, but around the country."
Hilda and her husband Hone Harawira are both renowned Māori activists and said Whina had been an inspiration in their own journey fighting for Māori rights.
"I acknowledge her as a wāhine toa and her leadership took people places," Hilda said.
"The thing I'm learning is that people can disagree on things, but can still work together on things later. She took that leadership with her beyond the hikoi."
When Dame Whina Cooper died at Hokianga in 1994, aged 98, more than a million people tuned in to watch the live television broadcast of her tangihanga (funeral).
No matter where you stand on the political landscape, there was no denying Whina's story was an inspiration to the entire country and the film will undoubtedly go down as one of the most important films of our time.
'Whina' the film is due out in cinemas across the country from June 23.