RIVER Queen was a learning experience of spiritual gain for the actors in the movie.
The Whanganui River and the iwi that have lived along its banks for hundreds of years took centre-celluloid with an Irish solo mother of a half-caste son who was reclaimed by his river whanau.
Yesterday, media from throughout New Zealand and the world lined up to interview the stars ? Temuera Morrison, Cliff Curtis, Rawiri Pene; cultural advisor Gerrard Albert; director Vincent Ward, producer Don Reynolds, co-producer Tainui Stephens and deputy-mayor Dot McKinnon.
In the words of 14-year-old star Rawiri Pene, who plays the half-caste son, Boy, River Queen felt like Hollywood and, "Yeah," he loved the action.
"The guns, the action ? it was cool."
Other big name stars of River Queen, Temuera Morrison and Cliff Curtis, spoke of the spiritual gain from learning the kawa (protocols) of the Whanganui iwi.
"To play a Maori face in a movie about a river people who say, "I am the river and the river is me", was to uphold the mana of the people," Mr Morrison said.
"There was once a time when each tribe would have to ask permission to move through another's rohe (territory). We still hold this respect for each other.
"These kinds of stories are forgotten. Al Pacino makes his mafia movies and for us, as Maori, we make movies about our own."
Mr Morrison praised the gallantry of the extras who, in the middle of winter, would be waist-deep in the river ? something "you could not get extras from Auckland to do."
The barefoot Mr Curtis talked about his preference to play "something of value", and likened his part as Boy's uncle Wiremu to his other roles of value ? in Whale Rider and Once Were Warriors.
"It was a great spiritual gain to be with the Whanganui iwi and to come into another rohe (territory) was a great learning experience ? it was beautiful."
Both men spoke of the dialect issues and the assistance from the iwi cultural adviser, Gerrard Albert, who prompted them through their speaking parts.
Mr Albert and Whanganui kaumatua Rangitihi Tahuparae were the cultural and spiritual advisers to the movie.
"We were preparing for the great battle scene and Gerrard composed the dialogue that morning. It was poetry ? te mita o te reo (Whanganui iwi dialect) ? and one of the special moments in the film ? it was like a wananga."
There was a lot of dialogue in te reo around the battle scene, but for the purposes of distribution and marketing, those parts were left out, Mr Curtis said.
"The movie was wonderful," Mr Albert said, "because the cultural merging and the historical issues are things we need to look at, and although the past is hurtful, dialogue will ultimately help us to understand each other better."
Director Vincent Ward said he could not be objective about his living, fictional, historically accurate drama, about which he is proud and very excited.
"We have some strong stories to be told in this country ? The River Queen allowed me to come back to New Zealand."
In reply to a question about some of the lukewarm film reviews, Mr Ward said: "They are what they are; they encourage debate, but it's up to the individual to see the film and make up their own mind."
And for Wanganui, Deputy mayor Dot McKinnon said, the movie was great exposure, but it was not just about the river; the city was attractive to the film industry because of its heritage buildings and the area's culture and heritage.
Mrs McKinnon said the premiere cost the Wanganui District Council $150,000 with sponsorship funding the balance, but stopped at giving the total amount.