Sunday, April 30, 2023

Frank Newman: Chiefs at War

Chief of War is an action drama set in 18th-century Hawaii. The storyline is about four warring tribes uniting against a much more powerful colonial invader. Presumably, the plot will be along the lines of a heroic chief using super-human qualities to unite the proud and virtuous tribal folk in order to defeat the imperial evil to establish the utopian happily-ever-after Kingdom of Hawaii. 

It is actually based on some truth in that the Kingdom of Hawaii was formed in the late 18th century. The rest is fiction. The actual history following tribal unification was one of decline until Hawaii was annexed to the United States 100 years later. Needless to say, a sequel is unlikely to feature this aspect of history.  

That aside, Chief of War appears to be a good yarn commercially suited to a woke audience and Harvard University academics. 

It has been billed as “the biggest Indigenous series ever made”. There is no question it is a big deal financially, with a production budget of US$340 million for the nine episodes. 

The lead actor is Hollywood superstar Jason Momoa, best known for his roles as the titular character in Aquaman and Khal Drogo in Game of Thrones. Big name kiwi actors include Temuera Morrison and Cliff Curtis.

The movie is of relevance to New Zealand because parts are to be filmed on location here. Filming started last October in the Bay of Islands which welcomed the cast and entourage with great celebration and cultural fanfare at a powhiri. Filming is also scheduled to take place in Auckland and was to take place at Kauri Mountain which is on the east coast near Whangarei. The scenery is spectacular, albeit little known and is appreciated more by locals than tourists.  

In January this year, the Northland Regional Council granted resource consent for the filming, and construction of the temporary props and buildings was underway. It all came to an abrupt halt a few weeks ago. 

What the producers of Chief of War had not counted on was the warring tribes of Northland. 

The irony of a film plot of indigenous tribes defending themselves against colonial oppressors being chased away by indigenous infighting would be amusing if it wasn’t for the unfortunate consequences.

A journalist from the Northern Advocate heard about the story. Although the key players were not especially forthcoming about the reasons for the sudden turn of events, it was reported to be due to “confusion around consultation between local iwi and hapū groups.”

Details on what that “confusion” is remain unknown and have been the hot topic of chitter-chatter by locals. The question on everyone’s mind is whether the disagreement was about money or mana.

What is more certain is that the locals are not happy.  

The Advocate picks up the story…

Canning the shoot is understood to have taken away tens of thousands of dollars from the economy, denying hundreds of Northland extras the chance to appear in a major production and curbing international exposure the district would have received...

According to reports, around 300 extras from the Māori and Pasifika communities, many from the Whangārei area, were to feature…the local community is reeling after the loss of significant revenue and a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

One accommodation provider [said], “It’s a significant thing…A huge loss to the community, and it needs to be talked about.”

They described it as a loss of the positive exposure for the Whangārei District that would have resulted from the filming, also referencing the 300 extras who were set to participate in the filming, many of whom were from the area and would be paid up to $300.

They also said a myriad of hospitality industries will have missed out, including local restaurants and cafes.

Award-winning producer and New Zealand Order of Merit recipient for Services to New Zealand in Technology for Film and Television, Rhonda Kite, (Te Aupōuri, Ngai Tākoto, Ngāti Kuri) said the presence of an international film shoot is a huge economic and social opportunity.

For the last 30 years, Kite has been campaigning hard to get large-scale productions filmed in Te Tai Tokerau.

She said productions such as this often bring in “above the line” people such as cast, crew and directors, but often those “below the line” are sourced locally, which she said “is where the win is in Northland”.

Some sources are unable to comment about the filming cancellation due to non-disclosure statements in place.

The Northern Advocate has also reached out to Te Waiariki, Ngāti Kororā, Ngāti Takapari Hapū Trust, Ngātiwai Trust Board, as well as The Department of Conservation (DoC) for comment.

DoC is due to provide a response under the Official Information Act near the end of next month, and the Advocate has so far received no response from Te Waiariki, Ngāti Kororā, Ngāti Takapari Hapū Trust or Ngātiwai Trust Board.

See the full Advocate story here >>>

So, decades of work trying to attract large-scale film productions to the North has come to nothing because of “confusion” by local Maori. While the exact details have yet to be exposed, it is likely to have arisen from a disagreement between iwi and hapu as to who is recognised as having  “authority” over the area and who should have been consulted for consent to film. Clearly, things came to a head and reached a  point where the film-makers said, “get stuffed – we’re off”. 

It’s a very bad look for Whangarei and it is highly likely the word will have gone around the movie-making industry that New Zealand has an indigenous problem that one needs to either avoid or at the very least be wary of. 

Sadly, this is not a new thing. In 2014 Sir Bob Jones explained what it was like consulting with iwi when he wanted to restore a window in a commercial building in central Auckland that had been removed by a tenant. The work required resource consent because the building was within 50 metres of one of thousands of new designated Maori heritage sites introduced by the Auckland Council’s Maori Statutory Board. 

To gain that consent, Sir Bob had to seek the approval of 13 iwi, ranging from Taranaki to Whangarei. Letters were duly written. 

Sir Bob explains: 

“Five replied stating they had no concerns while others said they were considering the matter, presumably calling huis to weigh up this window crisis. One respondent bearing that fine old Maori name of Jeff Lee, representing something called Ngai Tai Ki Tamaki, contacted the planner… After advising the planners verbally that no Cultural Impact Assessment Report was required for the window, he nevertheless asked them to consider it – brace yourselves – given his ancestors, centuries ago, gathered in the vicinity. Lee then wrote, outlining his terms for ‘assessing the window’s cultural impact’ which, he said, would take him ‘a total of six to eight hours’. For this he sought $90 per hour plus GST and ‘travel expenses of 0.77c per km’.”

Bob Jones told them to get stuffed.

Regrettably, too few respond as he did. Most find it easier and potentially cheaper to give in to cultural blackmail.

For a time, I was a member of what was then known as the Judicial Committee of the Whangarei District Council. Essentially it was a three-person committee of councillors to hear resource consent applications. As chairman, I was also required to review and sign off non-notified resource consents. 

The council practice at the time, and I am sure it remains, was to deem local iwi an affected party for all applications and as such they were given an opportunity to object to proposals. It was not uncommon for the local iwi to demand the applicant engage them to obtain a cultural assessment report - for a fee paid by the applicant. Having prepared the report the iwi would decide whether they would object to the proposal. Rarely did I have to actually read the report because it was usually just a three- or four-page photocopy of a standard document!

I cannot recall any cases where an applicant objected to the report or refused to pay the fee, knowing that a signature was required to avoid a hearing of the Judicial Committee and a potential appeal to the Environment Court and beyond. Given the choice between making the payments or incurring the costs, the uncertainties, and the delays of not doing so the applicants invariably made the logical commercial decision to pay what many would privately refer to as a ransom.

Exactly which iwi or hapu has status in a particular area was always a contentious issue. As Bob Jones found out, there were often multiple interests claiming affected party status, so they too could have their “mana respected”. 

Council staff of course usually obliged and granted the requests and simply added the Maori group to the list that applicants were required to consult.

It appears, although it has not been confirmed, the “confusion” regarding Chief of War is that a local hapu (family group) was not on the list of Maori interests to be consulted when the resource consent was processed by the Northland Regional Council. Quite possibly they then protested and made demands that were clearly unacceptable to the film producers - so unacceptable that they demolished the structures they had erected, packed up their gear and left. One imagines they waved goodbye with a one-finger salute as their vehicles departed the car park.

Sadly, this debacle has deprived the local community of much-needed income, prevented hundreds of aspiring actors from having the opportunity to showcase their talent (or at least allow them bragging rights to say they were in a famous movie), deprived the opportunity for Whangarei to showcase its spectacular scenery to a world audience of many millions, and sullied New Zealand’s reputation as a great place for overseas movie makers. 

While we do not know if financial demands were involved - and no allegations to that effect are being made - what we can say is the cultural appeasement industry is damaging our economy and harming everyone. It needs to be tidied up. The real question is whether any politicians are brave enough to do so. Perhaps we need our own Chief of War type action hero to restore cultural sanity. 


DeeM said...

This is a taste of what co-governance (or eventually full governance if crazies like Tamahere are to be indulged) will produce.
Maori groups are like sulky children who don't get their way.
If you indulge spoilt brats like this they only get worse.

This government, and others before, have been indulging Maori to the point where the elite expect to be fawned over...and paid accordingly for their "expert" cultural opinion, no matter its irrelevance.

The whole thing's a giant rort. Someone in power is going to have to pull the dummy and stick junior in time-out until they realise they won't always get their own way.
I don't see anyone on the horizon who will make that happen.

Anonymous said...

The whole apartheid edifice of bullshit based on greed has to be torn down - all of it!

Unknown said...

This article remines me of "a recent incident in Hawke's Bay" regarding Te Mata Peak.
A specific Industry at the base of this Peak, apparently had purchased land that ran along the Northern side and intent of "creating a walking & cycle pathway from the road to top of the Peak, so that anyone could enjoy the walk from Havelock North up & over the Top of the Peak and down (or vice versa)- to the road that would take them back toward the Township.
It is important to note this Company had purchased the Land. The Local Council had approved Resource Consent, and work commenced on the pathway.

But suddenly Local Iwi stated the "Te Mata Peak was sacred".
All work on the pathway stopped and the land was returned to its former state.

My Rational - I have lived in Hawke's Bay, in that time had never heard of local Maoridom exerting domain over Te Mata Peak. If they had it was not common knowledge.

At the time of Resource consent being sought (which would have been notified thru a Public Domain - e.g. Newspaper/Council Website), for proposed work, was the Local Maori Iwi (who claimed domain) advised (in written form) of "of the Resource Consent for work proposed", consulted with a Hui on Marae? Or did the Local Iwi decide that, if they knew, that a reaction was not required or would not be forthcoming to "proposed works"?

It would be interesting to know how they became aware? Because the end result became a farcical event, with the Mayor of Hastings 'doing a walk back' on the whole process - when Her Council had been at the proposal end.

The cost to the Company concerned would have been "an embarrassing loss", from land purchase, resource consent, work undertaken & retro fixing" - very much like the loss of revenue/income in Whangarei as related to, in this written commentary.

If this can be considered as evidence of "intent" from Maori - heaven help NZ with Co-Governance!

Robert Arthur said...

Many maori must also be miffed. if the film is about colonial conquest I throght all the myriad worshippers and disciples of the glib Moana Jackson woud be all for.They should look for a venue near Gisborne. Local maori there are particularly devoted to deflating colonist acheivements, as evidenced by their sabotage of the Endeavor visit a few years go. Judging the bribe to be extorted should be a finely developed skill by now.

Anonymous said...

If true, this like Te Mana o Te Wai statements in 3 Waters and their equivilents in the new RMA are just blackmail, plain simple and corrupt blackmail.

Anonymous said...

There is no reason why consultation of any kind should take place with these Nimrods—either individually or collectively—in connection with anything other than their own private property.

This is ALL that “all the rights of the English” (TOW at Article II) provides for.

And that’s the bottom line.

Anonymous said...

It’s amazing how arrogance and ignorance a balanced in equal parts in this article: the author speaks with such authority about the situation whilst confidently ladling on copious amounts of assumptions. It’s is clear to the astute reader that this author is blowing smoke up his own posterior.

Furthermore:There is an unsettling truth that the author and the enthusiasts who support these attitudes are too shameless to admit or too blind to see.

The issues this community are facing are the result of incompetence with a pinch of ole fashioned human greed, but mostly a lack of diligence and discipline on the part of non Maori within the community, including within the ranks of the council and DoC to follow their own bi laws, protocols and procedures.

But that’s not the kind of narrative this audience is willing to acknowledge because there’s too much fun to be had using a narrow focus on some isolated incident to lionise Bob Jones as some kind of heroic figure and leveraging his name to attack the broader Maori community as a political punching bag.

What kind of desperate journalistic gymnastics is this.

Same dung different day.