Issue date: 
Saturday, 5 February 2022

Transmission Films in association with Te Tumu Whakaata Taonga the New Zealand Film Commission NZFC are proud to release the trailer for the highly anticipated local feature film Whina which will have its nationwide cinema release on 23 June, 2022, aligning with the inaugural Matariki long weekend.

Whina tells the inspirational story of Dame Whina Cooper New Zealand’s Te Whaea o Te Motu (The Mother of the Nation), her tumultuous life journey and unshakeable inner strength that led her to become one of Aotearoa New Zealand’s most remarkable leaders Whina’s life’s purpose for racial equality and land rights culminated in leading a sacred hīkoi over six hundred kilometres from the top of New Zealand to the national parliament in Wellington, to unite Mā ori pride and Pākehā honour.

Set over most of Dame Whina Cooper’s long life Whina stars Rena Owen (Ngāpuhi) [Once Were Warriors] as the elderly Whina and Miriama McDowell (Ngāti Hine, Ngāpuhi)  [The Dark Horse] as the younger Whina. Tioreore Ngātai Melbourne portrays Whina as a teenager.

The film was made with the full support of Whina’s family represented by Hōhepa Cooper, Hinerangi Cooper Puru and Moka Puru. Whina’s iwi through Te Rūnanga o Te Rarawa also embraced the ambitious production. The producers Matthew Metcalfe and Tainui Stephens (Te Rarawa) enlisted joint directing duo, James Napier Robertson a renowned drama director, and Paula Whetu Jones (Te Aitanga a Mahaki, Whakat ōhea, Ngā ti Porou), a skilled director of both drama and documentary, to bring this important part of New Zealand history to life on the big screen. “To direct the film was going to be such a huge undertaking,” explains Stephens. “Different films require different ways of working. Matthew and I had no problem moving away from the individualistic angle that an auteur brings to film, in favour of a collaborative approach of two directors working in concert, working as partners.”

Metcalfe adds, “James had directed The Dark Horse an amazing film, also about a real life figure, and Paula had a history of directing drama and documentary, and was one of the directors on the highly acclaimed anthology film, Waru From the very beginning, they operated as one individual unit, to bring Whina’s story to the screen.”

As directors Whetu Jones and Napier Robertson spent time with Dame Whina’s family, they listened, watched and learned more about Whina as a beloved mother and wife. They both felt it was important to depict the events of Whina’s life that added up to the person she became, and not to portray her as a saint but as a human being. They fully embraced the complexities of her character that emerged. “She had flaws, and we weren't afraid to address them,” notes Whetu Jones, “but we wanted to address them in a way that would allow the audience to feel compassion for the choices that she had to make.”

Napier Robertson adds, “We wanted to show her as a fully three dimensional human being, Dame Whina is this towering figure, so it's easy to forget the day to day struggles that she might have dealt with, and the challenges she had to overcome to do the things that she did. Those are aspects that I think anybody, when they see the film, will be able to relate to. The more we learned about Dame Whina, the more we were blown away by what she'd done and the life that she led.”

Early script drafts for Whina were written by Academy Award winning British New Zealand writer James Lucas with Whetu Jones and Napier Robertson completing the screenplay.

Whina was made with funding from the New Zealand Film Commission, Ingenious Media, Traus Investments, and Images Sound, Westmark Productions and the New Zealand Government’s Screen Production Grant and Screen Production Recovery Fund. NZFC’s Pou Whakahaere o Te Rautaki Māori, Te O Kahurangi Waaka comments, “The aim of Te Tumu Whakaata Taonga New Zealand Film Commission is to champion exceptional story tellers to create enduring taonga for Aotearoa. Telling the story of such a formidable leader is no easy task and one which requires much care and diligence no matter who the team. Our role in supporting the lead Māori creatives, whānau and Iwi with the team, was necessary to be able to carry the film for her, and carefully composite key facts with dramatic license to tell a story of this incredible woman into a feature film. We acknowledge everyone involved in bringing the film to fruition, celebrating her story to audiences globally that will resonate in our current times.”

Transmission Films will distribute Whina theatrically in New Zealand and Australia, with Cornerstone Pictures handling international sales. Joint Managing Directors of Transmission Films, Richard Payten and Andrew Mackie state, "We're honoured to be releasing Whina in cinemas across New Zealand on the Matariki long weekend in June. Paula and James have crafted an intimate and moving epic in tribute to the great Dame Whina Cooper that stands tall. We can't wait for audiences to experience it on the big screen."

Whina opens in New Zealand Cinemas 23 June, 2022.

Last updated: 
Saturday, 5 February 2022