By: Kate Olivares, Peak Associate

Merata: How Mum Decolonized the Screen is directed by Heperi Mita, and it chronicles his journey of archiving and learning more about the life, art, and activism of his distinguished mother, Merata Mita. This was the closing screening for Vancouver’s DOXA Film Festival, celebrating the finest in documentary film.

Going into this film I had not heard of Merata Mita, but it turns out that I am deeply invested in everything she left behind. As a struggling single mother, she stumbled into filmmaking in the 80s out of desperation to show the struggles of her fellow Māori people in New Zealand. After this, she became a crucial — and sometimes solitary — voice, heard not just in New Zealand but worldwide, speaking up through film about Māori rights. Merata sheds light on this crucial contributor to Indigenous activism.

Merata Mita was adamant in drawing the connection between the dominance of white male voices in film and their overall dominance in society. Indeed, the colonial grip on film embodies the colonial grip on human consciousness — invisibly yet pervasively, white society keeps Indigenous peoples seen as inferior through dominating the narrative of human life. No better medium of storytelling proves more important in this regard than film.

Underneath the filmmaking and the activism, this documentary sheds light on Merata as a Māori woman and what this has meant throughout her life. This includes poverty, sexual exploitation, and the fixed presence of her five children in all of her endeavors. However, it also highlights how her identity gives her strength. Part of why Merata’s story is so remarkable is that it illuminates how these seemingly separate pillars are intricately intertwined; her motherhood, activism, and artistry rely on each other to exist.

As such, Merata’s story extends beyond her work and family. One of the film’s highlights are the interviews with Māori filmmakers today that spoke lovingly of Merata’s mentorship. I was thrilled to see one of these interviews featuring Taika Waititi, a Māori filmmaker who I think carries one of the most exciting voices in the film industry today. Part of why Merata endured violence and marginalization throughout her career as the lone Māori director was to prevent such struggle for future Indigenous artists.

I don’t have the space to discuss the artful way Heperi brings his mother’s never-before-seen, decades-old celluloid into big screens, or the clever ways in which the narrative is able to morph into the different aspects of Merata’s legacy. At the crux of it all, the film leads me back to the notion of decolonizing. Decolonizing will take more than reclaiming land and dialogue, but the arduous process of reclaiming consciousness, to see each other in a new lens.

Merata has given us this lens, along with a new path. Now, we must follow it.

While there are currently no listings for Merata: How Mum Decolonized the Screen in Vancouver, it will start to expand to theatres following its initial May 11, 2019 release date.