‘Merata: How Mum Decolonised the Screen’
Playing in the Documentary Premieres section of the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. Running time: 95 minutes. Next screenings: Tuesday, Jan. 29, 12:30 p.m., Redstone Cinema 1, Park City; Friday, Feb. 1, noon, Park Avenue Theatre, Park City; Saturday, Feb. 2, 9:30 p.m., Rose Wagner Center, Salt Lake City.
Merata Mita is a pioneer in film that most people outside New Zealand don’t know, and her son Hepi Mita’s loving chronicle of her life, “Merata: How Mum Decolonised the Screen” goes a long way of correcting that blind spot and furthering her mission to bring different voices to movies.
Merata Mita’s claim to fame was as the first Maori woman to direct and write a feature film, the groundbreaking “Mauri,” a drama set among her native New Zealand people. Mita’s films, both narrative films and documentaries, advocated social-justice issues, which often prompted harassment and violence.
Merata Mita was also at the nexus of New Zealand’s film scene, as casting director and other roles for other directors — most notably Geoffrey Murphy, who directed the classic “Utu” and went to Hollywood to direct “Young Guns 2.” (Murphy, who died in December, was Merata’s third husband, and was Hepi Mita’s father.)
Hepi Mita, an archivist, deploys a wealth of footage of his late mother working, talking and agitating. He also interviews his older half-siblings, woh talk about the personal strain their mother’s passion for film and politics had on the family.
“Merata” ends with a sequence that notes her legacy through the Sundance Institute fellowship for Native filmmakers that is named after her. It’s a fitting tribute, but the segment feels uncomfortably close to a Sundance infomercial.