A film about master carver and waka builder Sir Hekenukumai Busby has sailed into the 21st century.

The 1993 film Kupe: Voyaging by the Stars has been digitally restored by Ngā Taonga Sound and Vision and is set to screen at the Documentary Edge Film Festival from June 12 to July 5.

Due to Covid-19, the festival will be screened entirely online this year, so Northland residents will be able to view the film from the comfort of their homes.

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The documentary follows the late Northland Māori navigator and traditional waka builder, known as Hector Busby and Sir Hek, as he leads the construction of a waka hourua then retraces Kupe's course across the Pacific, back to Rarotonga.

Auckland director Pita Turei said the film was "special because it's a way of giving some recognition to Sir Hek".

"It's a special story about the father of our modern waka voyaging traditions," Turei said.

"It captured a moment of our attempt to restore our relationship with the Pacific Ocean as voyagers.

"I'm really pleased after 27 years the film is being shown again."

Busby was one of Northland's most influential Māori leaders who revived the ancient arts of ocean voyaging and celestial navigation.

A former bridge-builder, he fashioned more than 50 waka.

In the documentary, Busby first heads to Tahiti to learn navigation methods used by Polynesia's great ocean voyagers, then returns home to fell a kauri and begin building Te Aurere.

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Kupe: Voyaging by the Stars director Pita Turei said the film was a way of recognising Sir Hek. Photo / File
Kupe: Voyaging by the Stars director Pita Turei said the film was a way of recognising Sir Hek. Photo / File

The film was shot two years after Busby was honoured with the New Zealand Commemoration Medal in 1990.

A year after the film first screened, he was awarded a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE) for services to Māori.

Busy was made a Knight Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit in February 2019 during a ceremony at Te Whare Rūnanga, at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, and died three months later aged 86.

Kupe: Voyaging by the Stars was originally shot on 16mm Eastmancolor film and mastered to 1-inch videotape. This screening is from a new digital restoration of that videotape.

Turei's other film credits are Hotu Painu - Poison Fruit (1988) and Waka the Awakening Dream (1990).

This year will see a full line-up of over 70 films at Doc Edge, which is New Zealand's largest Oscar-qualifying festival.

Directors Alex Lee and Dan Shanan said they were passionate about "bringing important stories to everyone".

"Reaching out in times of isolation enables us to express humanity at its best."

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