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A little film that has grown wings and flown

A story described by short film judges as “set within the fragile balance of joy and inevitable sadness of father-daughter relationships”, has won Tokomaru Bay woman Cian Elyse White the short film festival’s best New Zealand film award.

Now based in Rotorua, White (Ngati Porou, Te Whanau a Hinetapora, Te Whanau a Ruataupare) wrote, directed and co-produced with Tweedie Waititi, the short film Daddy’s Girl (Kotiro) which features in Te Tairawhiti Arts Festival’s Show Me Shorts programme on Saturday.

The story was inspired by White’s relationship with her father.

“We have a cheeky, deeply loving relationship that is often wordless,” says White.

“I’m a real daddy’s girl.”

The choice of Jamaican-American singer Harry Belafonte’s song Jamaica Farewell also has a strong personal connection.

“It’s my dad’s favourite song and significant to both of us.”

Poignant inspiration

White drew on a real-life event that impacted on her family for the story in which William Davis (Go Girls, The Feathers of Peace, Hercules: The Legendary Journeys) plays the father and Ngapaki Moetara of Manutuke plays his daughter Te Puhi.

“To have two veteran actors step into those roles so boldly with so much heart and accept me as their director was an absolute gift,” says White.

While the actors speak in te reo Maori, and the film comes with subtitles, there is little dialogue at the beginning of the film, says White. As Tui prepares a boil-up, Te Puhi is distracted by a significant development in her and her father’s lives.

“The two share a traditional meal when the harsh reality of her father’s dementia forces Te Puhi to face the painful truth that she must let go of the most important person in her life,” says an online New Zealand Film Commission outline.

“I wanted people with family members who have dementia to feel they are not alone,” says White.

“Letting go is hard.”

Cinematographer Fred Renata shot the film in White’s grandmother’s house and Te Takinga Marae in Mourea.

“My grandfather built the house in 1960. My uncle lives there now,” says White.

Because of the strong personal character of the film the house needed little to no set dressing for the story.

“These spaces are unique and familiar to me. I know them so intimately and intricately.”

East Coast connection

While the house and marae film locations are in Rotorua, White’s whanau and iwi connection with the East Coast means the screening for the Tairawhiti Arts Festival in Gisborne is a special occasion.

“That means a lot to me” says White.

Daddy’s Girl (Kotiro) has already made the New Zealand Film Festival’s top five films this year, as well as the imagineNATIVE film festival’s A-list. It also starred as the only New Zealand film accepted into Hollywood star Geena Davis’s Bentonville Film Festival. Then the Show Me Shorts film festival judges presented White and Waititi with the Department of Post Best NZ Film Award and Fred Renata the Panavision Best Cinematographer Award.

“This little film has grown wings and flown to cool places,” says White.

“Short films are a labour of love. The ability for these actors to connect with each other and the story is crucial to the film. When people give you their time out of aroha, those are key moments.”

Tickets for the Show Me Shorts film festival sampler are available from the Dome Cinema. For reservations email sally@domecinema.co.nz or text 027 590 2117.

LOVE REMAINS: Judged the 2020 Show Me Shorts film festival’s best film, Daddy’s Girl (Kotiro), written, directed and co-produced by Cian Elyse White stars Ngapaki Moetara (left) as Te Puhi, daughter of Tui, played by William Davis. Picture supplied