Future stars of the big screen may have been discovered this week in Rotorua.

Staff from The Casting Company, the same team that found actors for the movie Boy, have been in Rotorua schools observing students in readiness for the September/October filming of a movie called Cousins.

Cousins will be shot in Rotorua and Wellington so it made sense to find people to fill the roles from those areas, according to producer and director Ainsley Gardiner.

For Gardiner, who whakapapas to Ngāti Pikiao and Ngāti Awa, Cousins is a film she is honoured to be a part of.

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Some 15 years ago New Zealand filmmaker Merata Mita, who was born in Maketū, planned to make the film based on a novel by award-winning New Zealand author Patricia Grace. But, for whatever reason, Mita was unable to produce the movie before her untimely death in 2010.

"Merata was my mentor," Gardiner said. "She had a significant influence in my journey with film, so to be able to pick up Cousins where she left it and continue her legacy, is an honour."

Gardiner has been a writer, director and producer in a number of movies that have become New Zealand favourites, including Two Cars, One Night – the first of several films she made with Taika Waititi – Tama Tū, Mokopuna, Eagle vs Shark, Boy, The Pā Boys, Waru and The Breaker Upperers.

Cousins tells the story of three cousins, Mata, who was raised by a cruel guardian who keeps her from her family; Makareta, the reluctant princess of her tribe; and Missy, who is overlooked but in the end is the glue that holds them together.

Gardiner is co-directing the movie with Briar Grace-Smith (Patricia Grace's daughter-in-law) who has written a new screenplay based on the book.

"That the story is about strong Māori women and the cast largely Māori females, has been another of the inspirations behind wanting to make this film," Gardiner said

"And, to be able to film part of it in Rotorua is awesome. For me there is a personal connection, it is my hapū and my iwi which makes it more special."

Since moving back to Whakatāne, Gardiner has always said she wanted to make films closer to where she lives as opposed to having to travel.

"It makes sense to me. Like with Taika and his connection to the East Coast. We cast from the East Coast and filmed in the East Coast – which is why we are looking for actors from Rotorua for Cousins."

Local students were observed in their classrooms by the casting crew and, if close to a character within the movie, would be recalled for an audition.