Two wars, two films, one fight

Saturday August 03, 2019 Written by Published in Entertainment
Emile’s children Wi Henry and Elsie are visiting Rarotonga for the first time. 19080245 Emile’s children Wi Henry and Elsie are visiting Rarotonga for the first time. 19080245

When director Taika Waititi wanted to harden up six young actors to play members of the 28th Maori Battalion, he enlisted them in basic training at New Zealand’s Trentham Army Camp.


There is a video mischievously leaked on YouTube by someone calling himself SuperMaorioBro – but the source is reliably said to be one Tammy Davis, actor and radio provocateur.

It shows just what happens when Waititi showed up to basic training to drop off the actors and give them an inspiring speech – only to discover the drill sergeant wouldn’t let him leave.

He was trapped there for the rest of the week, undergoing the same rigorous training he had expected his actors to complete.

To the great amusement of everyone present, Waititi struggles and fails to load his magazine into his automatic rifle. “Who bloody put it in the wrong place?” he demands to know.

One of those actors was a young Cook Islander named Taungaroa Emile. Now 41 – it’s his birthday today – he has returned to Rarotonga with his partner Bonnie and his two young children for Te Kuki Airani Film Festival 2019, running all next week at Empire Cinemas.

Emile appears in two of the festival’s films: one is the much-anticipated Vai, in which different Pasifika actors portray the film’s title character as this one extraordinary woman progresses through eight different life stories, from a 7-year-old Fijian girl to an 80-year-old Aotearoa Maori woman.

In the prime of her life, she is a strong Cook Islands environmental campaigner played by Evotia-Rose Araiti, who argues with her brother Elvisi about protecting the oceans. Elvisi, played by Emile, want to captain his own fishing boat; he does not take part in the protest against dragline fishing that so concerns his sister.

The other movie in which Emile features is a much older one: Taika Waititi’s 2005 short film Tama Tu, about young Maori soldiers bonding as they wait in the trenches in Italy, ready to go into battle for a flag and a cause that means little to them.

It was to prepare for that film that Emile did his basic army training: “Taika didn’t want us looking soft.”

And whenever he returns to Rarotonga, he pays his respects to “The 500”: those Cook Islanders who crossed the ocean to fight with the Maori Battalion in a war they barely comprehended.

One of those soldiers was his mother’s great-uncle.

Emile is a signed-up member at Rarotonga RSA – he carries the membership card in his wallet, and pulls it out proudly to show it off.

As different as the themes and setting of the two films are, Emile acknowledges a connection between the two. Two different generations, two different wars – but each ending on a note of hope.

Because Emile does believe that today’s war, to save the oceans and the environment, is one in which we can triumph, especially when people bring their voices together.

He is part of that fight. Last week, he and some of his friends would turn up each day at Ihumatao, in south Auckland, where protesters had occupied a piece of sacred Maori land that is earmarked for a housing development.

Each day, he and his friends would bring food, firewood, and help take away the waste – their contribution to today’s battle.

·         Vai screens at Empire Cinemas on Tuesday at 4.30pm and 6.30pm, with guests including director Miria George and actor Evotia-Rose Araiti.

·         Tama Tu screens next Saturday, as part of the Pasifika/Maori Short Films collection.

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