Merata Mita

Te Arawa, Ngāti Pikiao

1942 - 2010

Merata was born at Maketu in the Bay of Plenty and was educated at Te Puke High School before going on to study at Auckland College of Education. While teaching at Kawerau College she began working in film as a tool for teaching. She went on to work on a documentary in 1977 and in 1978 documented Ngāti Whatua protestors being apprehended by police at Bastion Point which led to the making of Bastion Point: Day 507 co-directed by Merata, Leon Narbey and Gerd Pohlmann. Further collaborations with Pohlmann produced The Hammer and the Anvil and Karanga Hokianga ki o Tamariki. Her next major production Patu! focussed on the 1981 Springbok tour. This film had its world premier at the Wellington Film Festival on 23 July 1983 and was ‘the first feature-length documentary in New Zealand directed by a woman.’ In 1988 she directed the feature film Mauri which screened at the 1988 Film Festival and won the Italian Rimini Film Festival’s best prize.

In 1990 she produced the documentary Mana Waka which utilised footage of the four waka commissioned by Princess Te Puea for the 1940 New Zealand Centenary celebrations. Her subsequent documentaries included The Shooting of Dominick Kaiwhata (1993), The Dread (1996) and Hotere (2001). She directed Che Fu’s Waka video which was awarded the Hawaii Music Awards Music Video of the Year in 1999.

Along with her work as a director, Mita worked for the Māori TV news programme Koha as a presenter, reporter and researcher. She also worked in the US for many years acting in Geoff Murphy’s Utu, and in Rowley Habib’s The Protesters when it was adapted for television. Mita was also involved on the production team of Murphy’s Spooked and Boy and was executed producer of The Land Has Eyes.

As one of New Zealand’s keynote film-makers Mita received the Leo Dratfield Lifetime Achievement Award for Documentary from the Robert Flaherty Foundation in 1996. Her work was honored at the First Peoples Festival in Montreal, Quebec in 2003 with a retrospective of a selection of her films and in 2005 Mauri was featured at the First Nations First Features Program at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and at the Smithsonian Instiution’s National Museum of the American Indian in Washington DC. In 2010 she was a recipient of the Companion of the Order of Merit in the New Year’s Honours.

She was an inspiration to many young film-makers, holding workshops, panel discussions and teaching indigenous screenwriting at the University of Hawai’i Manoa’s Academy of Creative Media where she was an Assistant Professor. She contributed to the creation of Te Paepae Ataata Trust – an initiative to support Māori film making – through discussions with the late Barry Barclay and Tainui Stephens. She was a Sundance Film Institute script advisor, a member of the national Geographic’s All Roads Film Project Board of Advisors, on the Sundance Institute’s Native Programme Board of Advisors and was patron of the Image Native Film Festival. She was creative advisor and artistic director to the Sundance/Moonstone screenwriters labs run in New Zealand in 2003 and 2004. In 2005 she was one of the Australian Film Commission’s creative advisors for their ‘The Long Black Writers Lab’ – a special screenwriters lab for Aboriginal Australian writers and directors. She also took up the role of artistic director at the Sundance Film Festival’s Native American Filmmakers Workshop and was responsible for coordinating the inaugural Native Hawaiian Film Festival: The Hawaiinuiakea Film Festival in 2005.

Biographical sources

  • "Merata Mita." 20 May 2011.
  • "Merata Mita." 19 May 2011.
  • Mita, Merata. "Merata Mita: Film-makers." Te Ao Mārama: Regaining Aotearoa: Māori Writers Speak Out. Comp. and ed. Witi Ihimaera. Contributing ed. Haare Williams, Irihapeti Ramsden and D. S. Long. Vol. 2: He Whakaatanga O Te Ao: The Reality. Auckland, N.Z.: Reed, 1993. 278.


  • Karanga Hokianga Ki o Tamariki. Dir. Merata Mita and Gerd Pohlmann. 1979.
  • The Hammer and the Anvil. 1979.
  • Keskidee-Aroha. Dir. Merata Mita and Martyn Sanderson. 1980.
  • Bastion Point: Day 507. Dir. Merata Mita, Leon Narbey, and Gerd Pohlmann. Mita Narbey Pohlmann Productions, 1980.
  • The Bridge: A Story of Men in Dispute. Dir. Merata Mita and Gerd Pohlmann. Vanguard Films, 1982.
  • Patu! Dir. Merata Mita. Awatea films. 1983.
  • Mauri. Written, Prod. And Dir. Merata Mita. Awatea Films; NZ Film Commission; Radio Hauraki. JVB Movie Distributors, 1988.
  • Mana Waka. Dir. Merata Mita. 1990.
  • The Shooting of Dominick Kaiwhata. 1993.
  • The Dread. 1996.
  • Waka. Featuring Che Fu. Dir. Merata Mita. No further details.
  • Won the 1999 Music Video of the Yeart Award at the Hawaii Music Awards.
  • "Rangatira" Merarta Mita – Making Waves." Dir. Hinewehi Mohi. 1998.
  • Hotere. 2001.
  • The Land Has Eyes. 2004.
  • Spooked. 2004.
  • Kete Aronui - Merata Mita. Episode 17. Series 5. Te Mangai Paho, 2007.
  • Keao. 2008.
  • Boy. Written and dir. Taika Waititi. Prod. Cliff Curtis, Ainsley Gardiner, Emanuel Michael. Co-prod. Merata Mita. Whenua Films, 2010.
  • Saving Grace. This unfinished documentary at the time of her death finally aired in March 2011.
  • Non-fiction

  • "Merata Mita Makes Movies: But In A Male Dominated Industry It’s Not Easy." Broadsheet 106 (1983): 20-21.
  • Mita chronicles the difficulties she faced as a Māori and as a woman in making a film about the Springbok Tour from the added requirements hire companies imposed on her because she was a Māori woman to the difficulties of obtaining funding for an ‘unpopular social issue’ to the deeply entrenched male dominance and arrogance in the New Zealand industry. Mita writes that while the central protagonists of the Tour were men, whether in the Red Squad, the Rugby Union, the Springboks, the All Blacks, or the Media, the film shows the rising mobilisation of women taking more leadership roles which Mita sees as ‘one of the most exciting aspects to emerge in the Springbok Tour film.’
  • "Merata Mita on Waitangi." Broadsheet 116 (Jan.-Feb. 1984): 16-17.
  • In this discourse on the consequences of the Treaty of Waitangi, Mita contends that there is nothing to celebrate and ‘much to mourn’ and she argues for an independent Aotearoa separated from the Crown - a republic which encompasses the principles of Māori sovereignty.
  • "Indigenous Literature in Colonial Society." The Republican 52 (Nov. 1984): 4-7. Rpt. in Te Ao Mārama: Regaining Aotearoa: Māori Writers Speak Out. Comp. and ed. Witi Ihimaera. Contributing ed. Haare Williams, Irihapeti Ramsden and D. S. Long. Vol. 2: He Whakaatanga O Te Ao: The Reality. Auckland, N.Z.: Reed, 1993. 310-314.
  • In this critical review of the bone people, Mita presents a strong statement on the impact of colonisation on Māori and on their literature. Mita contends that the ultimate indignity for Māori is that they have to write in the English language and maintains that ‘any true Māori literature must be written in the Māori language.’
  • "Merata Mita: Film-maker." Head & Shoulders: Successful New Zealand Women talk to Virginia Myers. Virginia Myers. Auckland, N.Z.: Penguin, 1989, 36-71. Rpt. 1986, 1987. 36-71. An extract rpt. in Te Ao Mārama: Regaining Aotearoa: Māori Writers Speak Out. Comp. and ed. Witi Ihimaera. Contributing ed. Haare Williams, Irihapeti Ramsden and D. S. Long. Vol. 2: He Whakaatanga O Te Ao: The Reality. Auckland, N.Z.: Reed, 1993. 278-282.
  • An autobiographical account of Mita’s childhood, schooling and work as a school teacher at Kawerau College.
  • "The Soul and the Image." Film in Aotearoa New Zealand. Ed. Jonathan Dennis and Jan Bieringa. Wellington, N.Z.: Victoria UP with the assistance of the Film Programme of the Queen Elizabeth II Arts Council of New Zealand, 1992. 36-54. Extract rpt. in The Arts Advocate 1 (Apr. 1992): 9-10.
  • Mita discusses the impact of photography and early New Zealand film making on the Māori and notes the colonising ethos of early film makers towards the Māori. She examines New Zealand films and analyses their portrayal of Māori and Pakeha, exploring the persistent themes which she contends fail to ‘analyse and articulate the colonial syndrome of dislocation’. She concludes by assessing the progress of Māori film makers who have had to work within a monocultural medium and writes of the New Zealand Film Archive’s unique role in ‘returning images from a time past, back to the tribes and areas from which they were taken.’
  • "Trick or Treat: Issues of Feminism and Post-colonialism in Relation to the Arts." Te Pua 3.1 (1994): 37-41.
  • Mita presents a comprehensive account of the state of Māori women in contemporary society drawing upon the writings and art work of contemporary Māori women. She contends that there is little bonding between Pakeha and Māori feminists and that Māori women have been marginalised in the women’s movement. Mita states that Māori women had hoped Pakeha women would assist in the process of ‘decolonising the white institutions’ which have power over the lives of Māori women but that this did not happen.
  • Other

  • "Māori Autonomy: The Debate Continues." The Republican: A Magazine Of Left-Wing Analysis And Discussion 42 (Oct. 1982): 11-13.
  • Mita discusses the areas of conflict between the Trade Union Movement and the Māori Black Unity and writes of inequalities that Māori have had to suffer since colonisation.
  • "Bruce Jesson Interviews Merata Mita: Film and the Making of Politics." The Republican: a magazine of left-wing analysis and discussion 44 (Feb. 1983): 8-15.
  • Mita discusses her work as a film-maker, her disappointment with some locally-made documentaries which she states underestimate audiences, and the impact of Bastion Point, Karanga Hokianga and Te Matakite o Aotearoa. She comments on the corrupting effects and positive power of films and the role of whakapapa in her film-making.
  • Reid, Tony. "Recurring Nightmare for Tour Film-maker." NZ Herald 27 Aug. 1983.
  • Broadsheet Jan/Feb 1983 and July/August 1983.
  • Interviews with Merata Mita.
  • "Debbie Rewhiti Talked to Donna Awatere and Merata Mita About the impact of Māori Sovereignty." Broadsheet 124 (Nov. 1984): 12-15. Rpt. in Broadsheet: Twenty Years of Broadsheet Magazine. Comp. and introd. Pat Rosier. Auckland, N.Z.: New Women’s Press, 1992. 45-47.
  • In this interview Awatere and Mita talk of the effects of Awatere’s ‘Māori Sovereignty’ articles on Pakeha and Māori, and Awatere discusses her reasons for writing the articles.
  • Henry, Ella. "Mana Waka." Onfilm 7.2 (1990).
  • Misa, Tapu. "Stories Worth Telling." Mana Dec. 2002/Jan. 2003.


  • Cherrington, Te Paki. "A Tribute to Merata Mita." Rev. of Bastion Point – 507 Days, Patu and Men in Dispute. Tu Tangata 21 (1984/5): 42.
  • Horrocks, Roger. "New Zealand Film Makers at the Auckland City Art Gallery: Merata Mita." [Catalogue] 1984.
  • Martin, Helen. "Through a Māori Lens." Listener 14 Oct. 1989: 30-31.
  • Martin, Helen and Sam Edwards. New Zealand Film 1912 - 1996. Auckland, N.Z.: Oxford UP, 1997.
  • Myers, Virginia. Nicolaidi, Mike. "Overseas report: New Zealand Merata Mita’s movies." Cinema Papers 64 (1987): 56.
  • Myers, Virginia. "Merata Mita - Film Maker." Head and Shoulders. Auckland, N.Z.: Penguin, 1986. 36-71.
  • Parekowhai, Cushla. "Kōrero Ki Taku Tuakana: Merata Mita and Me." Illusions 9 (1988): 21-26.
  • Peters, G. "Lives of Their Own: Films by Merata Mita." New Zealand Filmmakers. Ed. I. Conrich and S. Murray. Detroit, USA: Wayne State UP, 2007: 103-120.
  • Robyns, Sian. "Making Films That Link Two Worlds." Dominion 19 Feb. 1990: 9.
  • Simpson, Ann. "Location Report: From Patu to Mauri." Onfilm 4.4 (1987): 26-27.
  • Filmakers Manifesto: Alternative Cinema Spring/Summer (1984/85). No further details.
  • "Merata Mita." 20 May 2011.
  • "Kiwi Filmmaker Merata Mita Dies." 20 May 2011.
  • "Tribute: Merata Mita." 20 May 2011.
  • Lusk, Jon. "Merata Mita: Pioneering Māori Film-Maker Who Charted Social and Politial Upheaval in New Zealand." 27 July 2010.
  • "All Roads Remembers Merata Mita." 20 May 2011.
  • Erai, Michelle, Fuli, Everdina, Irwin, Kathie and Wilcox, Lenaire. Māori Women: An Annotated Bibliography. [Wellington, N.Z.]: Michelle Erai, Everdina Fuli, Kathie Irwin and Lenaire Wilcox, 1991. 21, 22.
  • Reviews

    Bastion Point: Day 507.
  • Campbell, Russell. "The Discourse of Documentary: Narrational Strategies in Bastion Point: Day 507, Wildcat, The Bridge and Patu." Illusions 4 Summer (1987): 10-16.
  • Habib, Rowley. "Bastion Point: A Cold Hard Stare." Tu Tangata 2 (Oct./Nov. 1981): 31-32.
  • A descriptive and evocative review of Bastion Point: Day 507, a documentary film made by Mita, Pohlmann, Narby Productions which records the events of 25 May, 1975 when police arrested 222 people at Bastion Point and demolished the buildings.
  • Mauri
  • "‘Life force’ theme for Merata Mita." NZ Film 33 (Mar. 1988): 5.
  • "Mauri." NZ Film 34 (May 1988): 4-5.
  • "Full Houses for Mauri at Festivals." NZ Film 35 (Oct. 1988): 8.
  • "Rimini Award for ‘Mauri’." NZ Film 36 (Mar. 1989): 7.
  • "Mauri in New Zealand and Los Angeles." NZ Film 38 (Oct. 1989): 3.
  • "Edwards, Sam. "Cinematic Imperialism and Māori Cultural Identity." Illusions 10 (1989): 17-21.
  • Rowe, Mary. "Festival Films to Watch Out For." Broadsheet 160 (July/Aug 1988):21-22.
  • Kupenga, Tepora. "‘Mauri’ Dir, Merata Mita: Na Nga Iwi O Waikato O Whanau-A-Apanui Me Etahi Atu." Broadsheet 172 (Oct. 1989): 28-30.
  • "Mauri Begins New Zealand Release." NZ Film 39 (Feb. 1990): 8.
  • Patu
  • Campbell, Russell. "The Discourse of Documentary: Narrational Strategies in Bastion Point: Day 507, Wildcat, The Bridge and Patu." Illusions 4 Summer (1987): 10-16.
  • Crossley, Lyn. "Patu!" Broadsheet 111 (1983): 22-25. Interview with Mita about Patu! and Utu.
  • Cunliffe, Simon. "UK sees merits of Merata." Onfilm 2.1 (1984): 19.
  • Fenwick, Penny. Broadsheet 112 (1983): 42.
  • Jesson, Bruce. ‘"Patu!" - The Truth of What Happened.’ The Republican: A magazine of left-wing analysis and discussion 47 (Sept. 1983): 2-3.
  • Wells, Peter. "Looking for Truth." Listener 9 July 1983.