SIFF 2018 Review: Waru


Eight women directors came together in a workshop to design interactive shots around a central theme.  The central theme was the rampant problem in New Zealand of child deaths, and in particular, among the Maori community, where a combination of poverty, joblessness, alcohol and drugs increase the risk of domestic violence injuries and deaths.  The title of the over-encompassing film is Waru, which is the name of a fictional little Maori boy who is killed, presumably by his drunken father, and the whole community comes together to mourn the child.

Each director illustrates some aspect surrounding the above theme.  The opening vignette features a grim auntie who is coordinating the efforts of many people to put together the funeral meal when her son enters with his non-Maori girlfriend who she knew nothing about.  Another vignette features Waru’s teacher who is trying to come to terms with her own guilt that she had not done more to protect the little boy.  A third vignette features two grandmothers from two different Maori tribes who are each fighting to keep the child’s body in their cemetery.  We see a white New Zealand newscaster on an Opinions TV show with his partner, a part-Maori woman, who does not appreciate the way her co-worker generalizes the “Waru event” as only a Maori problem.

In another vignette we have a girl Mere whose “uncle” tries to make out with her and other young girls but she finds protection in the engraved walking stick of her deceased Maori grandmother.  Altogether there are 8 vignettes woven into a whole..

For students of filmmaking, this is an excellent film to watch, to see how a whole can so compellingly be constructed from disparate parts.  It is also remarkable because the project from start to finish lasted less than 4 months, and each director was required to do their entire 10-minute vignette in a single film shot.  For people not in the film industry, this may not mean much, but it is in fact a very difficult thing to do.  To get that single shot, some needed to attempt it several times, but others managed to do it in only two tries, and this with actors who had very little rehearsal time.

Waru has been well-received at several film festivals and held its own against blockbuster Hollywood movie Thor in New Zealand.  I really appreciated this film, both for its social message as well as for the creative way it was accomplished.

This movie was reviewed as part of coverage for the Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF 2018).

By Karen Samdahl
Related categories: Movie Reviews, SIFF