Merata Mita

Merata Mita CNZM (19 June 1942 – 31 May 2010) was a notable filmmaker in New Zealand as well as a key figure in the growth of the Māori screen industry. She was from the Māori iwi of Ngāti Pikiao and Ngāi Te Rangi.


Mita was born in Maketu in the Bay of Plenty region of New Zealand's North Island. She was the third eldest of nine children and had a traditional rural Māori upbringing. She taught at Kawerau College for eight years, where she began using film and video to reach high school students characterized as "unteachable", many of them Māori. The experience eventually led her into a lengthy career in the film and television industry.[1] She moved to Hawaii in 1990 and taught documentary film making at the University of Hawai'i-Manoa.[2]


Mita was the first indigenous woman and the first woman in Aotearoa New Zealand to solely write and direct a dramatic feature film. Hers was Mauri (1988). In 1972 she had been co-director with Ramai Te Miha Hayward of To Love A Maori.[3] An accomplished documentary director and producer for more than 25 years, Mita made landmark documentary films such as, Patu! (1983), about the violent clashes between anti-apartheid protesters and the police during the controversial 1981 South African Springboks rugby tours in New Zealand and Bastion Point: Day 507 (1980), about the eviction of Ngāti Whātua from their traditional land. Hotere (2001) documented the life and work of well-known Māori artist Ralph Hotere. She also directed the music video Waka for hip-hop artist Che Fu.[4]


Mita played the role of 'Matu' in the New Zealand feature film Utu, which was directed by her husband Geoff Murphy, starred Anzac Wallace, and featured veteran Māori actor Wi Kuki Kaa.[5] She also acted in the television adaptation of The Protesters, written by Rowley Habib.[6]

Documentary on Mita's work

In 1998, Mita was the subject of a documentary in the television series, Rangatira: Merata Mita Making Waves, directed by Hinewehi Mohi.[7]

In October 2014, NZ on Air announced funding for a biographical film, Te Taki A Merata Mita – How Mum Decolonised The Screen, to be directed by her son Heperi Mita, for cinematic release and screening on Maori Television.[8][9] On November 28, 2018, the documentary was accepted into the Sundance Film Festival in their 2019 programme.[10]

International influence

Mita's influence among indigenous filmmakers internationally was considerable, through film organizations and film festivals in which she mentored, such as the Sundance Film Festival's Native Film Initiative, the National Geographic All Roads Indigenous Film Festival, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting's consortium Pacific Islanders in Communications, and through her teaching at the University of Hawai'i-Manoa.[11]

Recognition and awards

Some of Mita's recognition and awards:


Mita died suddenly on 31 May 2010, after collapsing outside the studios of Māori Television.[17]


Mita directed or collaborated on numerous films,[18] including:

  • Karanga Hokianga (1979) – Director, co-editor
  • Bastion Point: Day 507 (1980) – Co-director, co-editor
  • The Hammer and the Anvil (1980) – Co-director, co-producer
  • Kinleith '80 (1981) – Community liaison
  • Keskidee Aroha (1981) – Co-director, co-producer
  • The Bridge: A Story of Men in Dispute (1982) – Co-director
  • Patu! (1983) – Director, producer
  • Mauri (1988)
  • Mana Waka (1990) – Director, sound designer
  • The Shooting of Dominick Kaiwhata (1993)
  • Dread (1996) – Director, writer
  • Te Paho (1997) – Director, writer
  • Hotere (2001) – Director, writer, producer
  • Saving Grace (2011)[19] (Te Whakarauora Tangata)


  1. Biography
  2. Aitken, Ian (2012). Documentary film. Routledge. ISBN 9780415579018. OCLC 775271646.
  3. Peters, G. (2007). "Lives of their own: Films by Merata Mita". In I. Conrich and S. Murray (Eds.), New Zealand Filmmakers (pp. 103120). Detroit: Wayne State University Press.
  4. "Che Fu "Waka"". 5000 Ways to Love You. Retrieved 12 June 2016.
  5. "Utu". NZonScreen. Retrieved 12 June 2016.
  6. "Loose Enz - The Protesters". NZonScreen. Retrieved 12 June 2016.
  7. "A documentary about pioneering Māori filmmaker Merata Mita whose career has spanned 20 years and whose films represent a unique account of New Zealand social and political history." Profile,; accessed 6 June 2016.
  8. "Mita's life to be celebrated on film". 2 October 2014. Retrieved 5 November 2017.
  9. "Three new documentaries funded for screens big and small". NZ On Air. Retrieved 12 June 2016.
  10. "2019 SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL: 112 FEATURES ANNOUNCED". Sundance Institute. Sundance Institute. Retrieved 3 December 2018.
  11. "Tribute: Merata Mita". The Big Idea. 31 May 2010. Retrieved 12 June 2016.
  12. Aitken, Ian (2012). Documentary film. Routledge. ISBN 9780415579018. OCLC 775271646.
  13. Aitken, Ian (2012). Documentary film. Routledge. ISBN 9780415579018. OCLC 775271646.
  14. "Creative New Zealand, Te Waka Toi Awards".
  15. "He poroporoaki kia Merata Mita (Tribute to Merata Mita)". Creative New Zealand. 2 June 2010. Retrieved 25 November 2015.
  16. "New Year Honours 2010". Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. 31 December 2009. Retrieved 4 December 2018.
  17. "Pioneering Kiwi filmmaker Merata Mita dies". 3 News. 31 May 2010. Retrieved 23 October 2011.
  18. 1981 Shooting Back
  19. "Special Screenings of Saving Grace - Te Whakarauora Tangata". Manatū Taonga, the Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 5 November 2017.
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