Remembering the struggles and achievements of Māori filmmaker Barry Barclay.

While filming Barclay’s Tangata Whenua television series in 1972, cameraman
Keith Hawke has the camera about 10 meters from the people on the porch,
leaving them as free as possible from the paraphernalia of filmmaking.
Image: Pacific Films.

Māori media researcher

It has been more than 25 years since the acclaimed Māori filmmaker Barry Barclay’s book Our Own Image was first published. So what has since happened in Māori filmmaking? Quite a lot, I would argue, but with some reservations.

The handful of films released over the last five years with stories written and driven by Māori includes Boy (2010), Mt Zion (2013), The Pā Boys (2014), and the recently released Born to Dance (2015). It is arguable as to what constitutes a ‘Māori film’, and perhaps not always a useful exercise but, as Barry said, Māori are forced to do this for funding purposes within a white system. It also makes visible Māori access or lack of access to feature film funding in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Our early Māori dramatic feature filmmakers, in particular Barry, Merata Mita, and Don Selwyn, paved the way for future generations. Today, many Māori filmmakers acknowledge these pioneers and build on their vision; The Pā Boys has a dedication to the memory of Barry, Merata, and scriptwriter Graeme Tetley.

Barry laid a foundation and fought for a cinematic space where Māori filmmakers could present Māori stories. He argued that Māori needed and had a right to opportunities to speak to a Māori audience first, without explanation, and others could listen in. Barry’s notion of talking in, which centres the indigenous voice, remains a useful theoretical tool.

Barry argued that Te Tiriti o Waitangi (Treaty of Waitangi), an agreement between iwi and the Crown, promised equity, extending this to the right of Māori to tell their own stories and access to funding to enable this. The historical pattern of underfunding Māori productions led Barry to take action and seek solutions. His unwavering determination and unspoken advocacy was a bold move for a filmmaker reliant on funding from these institutions.

I remember attending the 2007 formal launch of Te Paepae Ataata, an initiative supported by the New Zealand Film Commission that was set up to nurture and fund the development of Māori feature films. Te Paepae Ataata came about through tireless advocacy by Māori involved in media production, including Barry. He stood up that evening with optimism and good faith, announcing that “the house is now restored” and he would not pursue WAI 748, a Te Tiriti o Waitangi claim, lodged nine years earlier. The claim charged the New Zealand Film Commission (the major funder of films in Aotearoa New Zealand) with not meeting its obligations under the Treaty. The Pā Boys was the first feature film developed with Te Paepae Ataata support; however, this fund no longer exists. There appear to be no Māori specific funding provisions; instead Māori may apply alongside Pacific filmmakers to the New Zealand Film Commission’s He Ara – Māori and Pasifika Pathways scheme. Sadly, the house is in need of restoration.

Master carver Piri Poutapu chats with Tangata Whenua series writer/
interviewer Michael King and Waikato elder and facilitator Te Uira Manihera
on the porch of Mahinarangi meeting house, Turangawaewae marae,
Ngaruawahia, in 1972. Image: Pacific Films.

Returning to Our Own Image, how has this early conversation progressed and uplifted Māori filmmaking? Barry’s book provides an important record and reminder of the struggles and achievements he and others faced. Barry was innovative, pushing boundaries and challenging the status quo. He established ways of working grounded in Māori worldviews and concepts. His example provided legitimation and support for Māori filmmakers working or wanting to work in similar ways and offering a path for future generations of filmmakers.

His transformational practices were conceived during the making of the Tangata Whenua (1974) television series and expanded and refined during the production of his first dramatic feature film, Ngati (1987). He advocated for a sustainable Māori cinema and workforce leading him to train and employ Māori on Ngati.

Barry’s sense of accountability, apparent in his writing, guided his work with communities. He generously gave his time when I was writing a thesis, which included filmmaking theory and practice. He was careful to stress that process is crucial rather than a prescribed set of rules, saying: “My starting position is to say I’m an outsider. I know nothing about anything when I go into a community. I’m an ignoramus. I’m there at their sufferance. And I use the word sufferance deliberately…You get weighed by the results.”

Barry was very aware of wider connections and responsibilities not only to Māori but to indigenous people globally. Our Own Image plants the seeds of theoretical thinking that Barry expanded on throughout his life. His notion of Fourth Cinema is the result of a strategic creation of an indigenous cinematic space where none previously existed. It was apparent that Barry loved to engage with ideas and could immediately see the resonance between Fourth Cinema and Kaupapa Māori film theory, pointing to a shared language and understanding. Barry was always looking to create that safe and supported space for Māori cinematic voices.

Barry’s contributions reach beyond filmmaking. Generous with his ideas, we have learned much from him, and the re-release of Our Own Image will reacquaint some with his legacy and introduce him to new audiences. Our Own Image, one of many gifts Barry left, is a reminder to reflect on both struggles and achievements, continuing to build on the legacies left by Barry and those of his generation who envisaged a brighter future.


Angela Moewaka Barnes is a Māori social scientist based at Te Ropu Whariki, Massey University, Auckland, Aotearoa New Zealand. She has a track record of research using kaupapa Māori methods on a range of topics including media. Her doctoral thesis, Ngā Kai Para i te Kahikātoa: Māori Filmmaking, Forging a Path (2011), examined Māori dramatic feature film and filmmaking, in particular the work of Barry Barclay, Merata Mita, and Don Selwyn, alongside the development of a Kaupapa Māori Film theoretical framework. Angela’s field of research interests includes media, Kaupapa Māori, identity, health, and wellbeing.

Barry Barclay (Ngāti Apa) (1944–2008), author of Our Own Image, is an award-winning New Zealand filmmaker, writer, and philosopher. He coined the term Fourth Cinema and has been honored with a Laureate Award from the Arts Foundation of New Zealand and the New Zealand Order of Merit.

“In Our Own Image, Barry Barclay produced a manifesto for indigenous cinema. Both intellectual exhortation and community document, it is driven by a ferocious critical intelligence and a commitment to a practice and understanding of cultural representation based on principles of justice and self-determination. It deserves to be seen as a major contribution to global film studies.”
—Stuart Murray, University of Leeds

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