Film on life of respected kuia Dame Whina Cooper set for release

Source: 1News

A film chronicling the life of Māori leader and activist Dame Whina Cooper is hitting the big screens.

The Te Rarawa matriarch is perhaps best known for leading the famous 1975 land march, a hīkoi that galvanised communities across the country.

Marching from Te Hāpua in the Far North all the way to Wellington, the hīkoi called for an end to the taking of Māori land and gripped the nation.

Now Dame Whina's story is on the big screen for the first time. Co-director Paula Whetu-Jones described it as historic.

"We stepped back and we had cast and crew screening and they were crying because they know the enormity of the task at hand," Whetu-Jones said.

The cast have personal ties to the hīkoi too.

"That land march came through my hometown Moerewa," actress Rena Owen said.

"There's photos of the freezing works. My dad's in that photo, and my aunty. My father's sister joined that land march."

Owen has fond memories of Cooper, with the pair attending Catholic Church conventions together. These encounters and historical footage prepared her for the role.

Miriama McDowell plays Dame Whina in her younger years and described the role as "a daunting process".

"How will I ever fill her shoes?" McDowell recalled.

"I remember one of her granddaughters told me 'you don't have to think about that, she's gonna come to you.'"

Her journey saw her work with New Zealand's first Māori MP Sir Āpirana Ngata, and she believes viewers will find the film "inspiring".

The film will be released on June 23.