Merata Mita
1942 - 2010

Trailblazing filmmaker and first Māori woman to direct a feature film

Merata Mita was a filmmaker who, through her art, advocated for Māori stories and passionately fought for indigenous rights.

In 1988, Mita became the first Māori woman to write and direct a dramatic feature film, the acclaimed Mauri.

But before she shattered that glass ceiling, Mita had already carved out a dynamic career in film.

She spent eight years as a teacher at Kawerau College, where, after noticing how the school system was failing Māori and Pacific Island children, she began using the mediums of film and video to increase their engagement.

Mita saw a connection between the history of oral storytelling in Māori culture and the visual expression of filmmaking; "It impacted on me just how strong the power of image, or the power of picture, is in probably most Polynesian people; people who come from an oral tradition," she said in a Hawaiian TV interview in 1997.

In 1978, Mita took a camera to the occupation at Bastion Point; two years later, she released Bastion Point: Day 507, one of her landmark documentaries. Filmmaker Chelsea Winstanley recently described its impact in an interview; "It was told from the perspective of Māori. Every time I see it now, I still bawl my eyes out."

She continued to disrupt the filmmaking world with Patu! (1983), following the Springbok tour, and later with Mauri.

Mita, who died suddenly in 2010, has left an unshakeable legacy on filmmaking both here and around the world.

The Sundance Institute in the US still annually awards the Merata Mita Fellowship for Indigenous Artists, a cash grant and year-long support programme for upcoming indigenous filmmakers.

Her impact has been chronicled in the recent documentary Merata: How Mum Decolonised the Screen, directed by her son, Herepi.