NZ Wars on Film

UTU, a movie set in the later NZ Wars of the 1870s, directed by Geoff Murphy, released in 1984.There is no doubt that the movies possess an enormous power to shape historical images, and memories.

We see this of course in the USA, where popular perceptions of the West – and how it was won from Native Americans – continue to influence how ordinary Americans see their founding years. How the West Was Won is an old 1962 movie that occasionally still runs on New Zealand television.

The Dead Lands, a movie set in the earlier musket war period of the 1820s, directed by Toa Fraser, released 2014.We don’t have anything like this in New Zealand, given that our movie industry isn’t as all-encompassing as that of the USA, and, where it is, the focus is rather on JRR Tolkien than James Cowan, one of our most accomplished historians.

As a result, our homemade movies don’t quite make such inroads into – and frame – our cultural beliefs, well, arguably – others might wish to argue the reverse. (An attempt was once made to bring James Cowan to the screen – see above Frontier Tales). 

We do have some movies that have examined the wars, telling various tales about Māori and Pākehā, and how they fared in times of national and civil conflict. Depicted here are some fine examples which we’ll be reviewing shortly.

Rewis Last Stand, directed by Rudall Hayward in 1925.  Pictures, a movie about the Burton brothers who were early photographers of Māori, with the wars as a background, directed by Michael Black, released in 1981..   River Queen, the movie released in January 2006, filmed on the Whanganui River and based partly on Titokowaru's campaign of the late 1860s.   Crooked Earth, released 2001, directed by Sam Pilsbury, a modern retelling of inter-tribal conflicts over relations with the Crown, as seen in the earlier movie UTU.