Sundance 2019: MERATA: How Mum Decolonised The Screen

A still from MERATA: How Mum Decolonised The Screen by Heperi Mita, an official selection of the Documentary Premieres program at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute. Photo by New Zealand Herald.

MERATA: How Mum Decolonised The Screen profiles filmmaker Merata Mita and the influential role she played in being a pioneer of Indigenous cinema.

Despite my being a film buff, I was very unfamiliar with the filmmaker’s story going into the film.  This changed upon viewing the documentary–which runs under 90 minutes.  After her death in 2010, her son, Hepi, wanted to find out what it was that led her to champion Indigenous cinema.  Without her, it’s very well possible that cinema could leave a large population unrepresented on screen.  She became the first and only Maori woman to write and direct a narrative feature.  This came in 1988 with the release of Mauri.  Before her, there was no Maori woman choosing to become a filmmaker.

In spite of it all, this work didn’t come without its risks.  She wasn’t one to avoid a political film but this didn’t come without a risk to her family.  She persevered through these battles, which often included harassment and other negatives.  How many filmmakers would fight for social justice knowing that it might harm their family?  How many would continue to do so knowing that their involvement might lead to such harm?

Because of his role as a film archivist, director Hepi Mita as access to never-before-seen footage.  He’s able to share his mother’s story in a way that only a son can.  The New Zealand filmmaker made it her mission to put more Indigenous people on screen.  Without her, Taika Watiti wouldn’t be the filmmaker that he is today.  It’s quite possible that he might not have even been on the radar to direct Thor: Ragnarok.  This is because of crucial advice that he received while developing Boy.  Of Mita, Watiti says that she advised him to “take a serious situation and inject it with a lot of irreverent humor.”

It’s no surprise that this film is holding its world premiere during Sundance.  After all, Merata Mita served as an advisor and artistic director of the Sundance Institute Native Lab from 2000-2009.  In addition to this, Sundance has presented a fellowship in her name since 2016.  Premiering the film here is the perfect way to honor her memory because this enables others to share in her love of Indigenous cinema.

In addition to family members, there are a few filmmakers featured.  Among these are Heather Rae–who ran the Native Program in 1996-2001.  Rae would go on to produce Frozen River, which took home the Grand Jury Prize for the U.S. Dramatic Competition.  Another interview subject is Bird Runningwater.  Runningwater is currently the director of the Sundance Institute’s Native American and Indigenous Film Program.

MERATA: How Mum Decolonised The Screen shows how this important filmmaker was able to overcome adversity in her quest to become a champion for Indigenous cinema.

FEATURING:  Merata Mita, Rafer Rautjoki, Richard Rautjoki, Rhys Rautjoki, Awatea Mita, Eruera “Bob” Mita
Hepi Mita, Alanis Obomsawin, Jesse Wente, C.M. Kaliko Baker, Tammi Haili’opua Baker, Heather Rae, Bird Runningwater, Andrew Okpeaha MacLean, Sterlin Harjo, Pauline Clague, Blackhorse Lowe, Taika Waititi

MERATA: How Mum Decolonised The Screen holds its International Premiere during the 2019 Sundance Film Festival in the Documentary Premieres program. Grade: 4/5



Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.