Whanganui's inaugural film festival Puanga Pictures drew some enthusiastic audiences during the weekend.

Celebrating Kiwi film making with a focus on contemporary local, Maori, and New Zealand cinema, the festival began on Friday night and ended on Sunday night.

Otaki-based film makers Libby Hakaraia and Tainui Stephens conducted a question and answer session after the screening of Ms Hakaraia's documentary series Hautoa Ma: The Rise of Maori Cinema.

The couple run their Blue Bach production company and host the Maoriland International Film Festival in March each year.


The international, indigenous film festival celebrates indigenous voices and story telling in film attracting big crowds each year.

"We had around 7000 people attend this year," said Ms Hakaraia.
"There are only about 6000 people in the town [Otaki] so those were good numbers," Mr Stephens added.

Ms Hakaraia said engaging the rangatahi (youth) of Otaki in the festival provides them with great inspiration.

"Having film maker Taika Waititi (Boy, Hunt for the Wilder people and currently working on Thor in the US) and actor James Rolleston (Boy, The Dark Horse, The Dead Lands) in their town is great although they try to play it down.

"They might say they kicked a ball around with James Rolleston like it's no big deal but then you see they have got him to sign their shirt."

The couple said the great thing about making independent, indigenous films is that they do not have a shelf life and can still look fresh after 20 years.

"You also don't have to go through gate keepers at broadcasting," said Mr Stephens.

The Puanga festival has been a joint initiative by Helen Marie O'Connell of the Whanganui Film Society, and photographer Tia Huia Ranginui.

Ms O'Connell said the opening night was a wonderful occasion with a great opening speech from Whanganui Mayor Annette Main and mihi from kaumatua John Maihi.

"All the crew dressed in River Queen costumes and audiences have been very impressed with the ambiance and enjoyed the food provided.

"As we expected, the Local Shorts screening with Whanganui scenes and people were the most popular with audiences but some people have enjoyed coming to most of the screenings."

Puanga Pictures ended with a screening of the film Orphans and Kingdoms followed by a question and answer session with producer and actor Fraser Brown.