Feb 26, 2008

2nd March 2008 ; Screening of Whale Rider

A story of love , rejection and triumph
of a young girl who fights
to fulfill her destiny

Whale Rider

A Film By Niki Caro

Country : New Zealand
English with English sub titles
Run time : 105 minutes

So many films by and about teenagers are mired in vulgarity and stupidity; this one, like its heroine, dares to dream. - Roger Ebert

"Whale Rider" is a New Zealand film that updates a 1,000-year-old Maori legend about the emergence, once every generation, of a tribal leader. It is based on a folk myth, and it's told with an elemental timelessness that feels like a swan dive into prehistory.


In other respects, the movie's as modern as a T-shirt. The young heroine survives her twin brother at birth. ''There was no gladness when I was born,'' says the older Paikea (Keisha Castle-Hughes) in voice-over. It takes much of the film for that tribal funk to disperse, but the payoff, when it comes, packs an emotional wallop.

Taking place in the village of Whangara, on the northeast coast of New Zealand's North Island, ''Whale Rider'' is the story of a peo
ple's decline and a young girl's uphill battle to restore its pride. Paikea, or Pai, is 11 when the film proper begins -- she has a child's playful eyes but a brow furrowing with purpose -- and the wrecked culture she surveys could just as easily be on a Native American reservation or above the Arctic Circle. Drinking and joblessness are pandemic, the women chain-smoke and play cards all day, and the men are either in prison or have, like her father, Porourangi (Cliff Curtis), fled to less hopeless climes.
Pai, named for a mythical founding figure said to have led the Maoris to New Zealand on the back of a whale, isn't alone in wanting to reconnect with a more glorious past. Her grandfather, Koro (Rawiri Paratene), is a stiff, humorless patriarch searching for the next generation's leader. He takes it upon himself to train
the local boys in such ancient tribal arts as taiaha, or stick fighting, but they're a uninterested lot: Only Pai desperately wants to absorb the lore and the strength Koro has to offer. Because of her gender, though, her grandfather insists she's not meant to ''mess around with sacred things.''

''Whale Rider'' follows their clash to the bitter end, and most of the time it hardly seems like a fair fight. He's a tribal chief and an infu
riating zealot, while she's a little girl tuned in to mysteries no one else can hear. But Pai's stubbornness counts for a lot; there's a scene where she outraces a school bus on her bicycle that says everything you need to know about the girl's drive. Ultimately it's enough to bring her family and friends around, including her layabout uncle (Grant Roa), her grandmother Nanny Flowers (Vicky Haughton), and even her grudging, westernized father.

Directed by Niki Caro, a white New Zealand filmmaker who had to fight to win the trust of the Whangara locals, ''Whale Rider'' h
as been filmed with lush end-of-the-world beauty, and the mysticism that flits about the edges of the narrative becomes satisfyingly overt by the climactic scenes (there are, indeed, whales). Paratene's Koro, for one, is maddeningly bullheaded, to the point where you stop believing in him as a character, and there's a sense that he's carrying all the sins of Western patriarchy in addition to his own ethnic chauvinism.

Castle-Hughes's Pai, by contrast, is a girl growing into her self and her destiny, and she's no more believable than when she breaks down in tears because her grandpa hasn't made it to the school pageant. At its transporting best, ''Whale Rider'' seesaws between archetype and innocence -- it's a re-founding myth that happens in r
eal time, before an audience's wondering eyes.
As it turns out, "Whale Rider" is less an anthropological study of the Maori people than a universal story of female empo

(source: New York Times )

Niki Caro

Niki Caro (born
1967) is an award winning film director, producer and screenwriter who was born in Wellington, New Zealand. Niki Caro is one of New Zealand's most original and inventive filmmakers. Her work is now known and acclaimed internationally through the film Whale Rider. The film has scooped a sheaf of awards including an Oscar nomination for best actress for 13-year-old leading actor Keisha Castle-Hughes, and eight audience awards at prestigious international film festivals.

Niki directed the fil
m and wrote the screenplay with Witi Ihimaera, based on his book of the same name. She has also been honoured by her peers with a 2003 Humanitas Award, an American-based prize for film and television makers whose work offers insight into contemporary society.

Whale Rider is the culmination of almost 15 years in the film and television industry since her graduation from Elam School of Fine Arts in 1988, during which she has produced a body of outstanding work.

Niki's first feature film, Memory and Desire, was selected for Critics Week at the Cannes Film Festival in 1998 and voted Best Film in the 1999 New Zealand Film Awards. Niki also received a Special Jury Prize for her
work as writer and director. Niki has been a leading contributor to local television content, writing and directing a number of dramas including the award-winning best drama series True Life Stories, Jackson's Wharf and Mercy Peak.

Niki Caro has directed seven films till date.

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