Paora Joseph is hoping his docudrama on the subject of suicide will open up conversations and save lives.

The film, Māui's Hook, is coming to Whanganui for a special screening at 6pm on August 30 at Embassy 3 Cinemas, and Whanganui people feature in it.

Filmmaker Paora Te Oti Takarangi Joseph has family connections to Pūtiki and Kaiwhaiki marae, through his father, Thomas Herewini Joseph. But he was brought up in Northland.

He said New Zealand should be alarmed that more than 600 citizens kill themselves every year.

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"Suicide affects everyone. There's no one person who hasn't been affected, through immediate family or extended family."

Māui's Hook gathers up five families for a bus trip to Te Rerenga Wairua/Cape Reinga to say goodbye to loved ones who killed themselves. Along the way they talk, in facilitated wānanga (sessions).

They start at Parihaka, arrive in Whanganui in June 2015 in time for the Whanganui River's biggest recorded flood, then carry on to Rotorua, Whangarei and the place where spirits depart in Māori mythology.

Whanganui people on the trip include the Poa whānau, Kiritahi Firmin and Rochelle Te Kaho.

The drama side is provided by a troubled young man, Tama (Niwa Whatuira), who is along for the ride but continually tempted to join the goddess of death and night, the lovely Hine-nui-te-po (Hera Foley).

Joseph, a clinincal psychologist, plays himself as the facilitator of wānanga, as well as directing the film.

He made it with the thought that individuals and whānau can fix this problem by talking about it and removing the whakamā (shame) associated with suicide.

His impression is that it's working. Families affected by suicide tell him the film is powerful, and that they feel less alone and less ashamed.

"I hadn't imagined that it would do so well. It's been sold out in most locations during the film festival and there's been a lot of interest from indigenous people from overseas," Joseph said.

He's grateful for the whānau that took part.

"Their generosity made the film what it was."

Joseph noticed suicide as a youth worker in South Auckland in the late 1980s. Then he travelled in India, Tibet and Nepal, where fewer people kill themselves.

When he did a degree in clinical psychology his thesis was on suicide in Māori society before colonisation. He interviewed Niko Tangaroa and Tai Turoa about it.

Before colonisation Māori suicide was usually to do with utu (revenge), whakamā or unrequited love - there were few other causes.

"There was a strong social fabric back then, and strong communities - not as fractionalised as we are now. There were no issues about cultural identity. We were living in accordance with our world view and nature," he said.

WHERE TO GET HELP:
If you are worried about your or someone else's mental health, the best place to get help is your GP or local mental health provider. However, if you or someone else is in danger or endangering others, call police immediately on 111.
OR IF YOU NEED TO TALK TO SOMEONE ELSE:
• LIFELINE: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
• SUICIDE CRISIS HELPLINE: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
• YOUTHLINE: 0800 376 633
• NEED TO TALK? Free call or text 1737 (available 24/7)
• KIDSLINE: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
• WHATSUP: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
• DEPRESSION HELPLINE: 0800 111 757