While many New Zealanders are still coming to terms with the Whanganui River's legal status as a person, a US filmmaker is telling the world about it.

The River is Me directed by David Freid of MEL Films is a 14-minute documentary on the unique Treaty of Waitangi settlement passed into law last year.

Whanganui iwi leader and Treaty negotiator Gerrard Albert was interviewed for the film along with George Matthews, Geoffrey Hipango, Waimarie skipper Don McGhee and trustee Anne Petherick.

"The filmmakers have a philanthropic approach and they make a lot of documentaries that highlight social and conservation concerns," Albert said.


"The River is Me is intended for an overseas audience and I think it does a good job of conveying the intent of the settlement."

The name of the documentary is based on the whakataukī (proverb) Ko au te awa, ko te awa ko au (I am the river. The river is me).

The River Is Me from MEL Films on Vimeo.

Albert says he is pleased that he and the other Whanganui commentators got the opportunity to explain the river's status and he thinks the documentary will help people understand that it is not just about Māori interests.

"It is not just iwi and conservationists who have concerns for the wellbeing of the awa.

"Everyone benefits from the river being protected and I'm pleased that they spoke to a riverboat captain because he has a unique perspective as well."

The settlement on the status has provided the "closest approximation" of how Whanganui Māori view the river, Albert said.

Former Attorney-General and Minister for Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations Chris Finlayson was interviewed extensively for the film.

He described his jetboat journey on the Whanganui River during bad weather and said that although it was an unpleasant experience, it helped him to understand.

"Do you feel that you connected with it?" he was asked.

"I certainly connected with the rain in my face," he replied.

Finlayson said people tend to get hung up on Western concepts of ownership and The River is Me conveys the message that those attitudes can be challenged and changed.

"We don't do revolutions here," Finlayson said, before the film cut to a scene of Gerrard Albert laughing.

"I wasn't laughing at him and I never heard him say that," says Albert.

"I agree with him that incremental changes work but revolution can be incremental too."

The film's associate producer Jennifer Tocquigny said MEL Films was a Los Angeles-based collection of journalists and filmmakers with diverse backgrounds that include The New York Times, VICE, Vanity Fair, Fast Company, Pitchfork, Buzzfeed, GQ and Rolling Stone.