NZ documentary team focuses on Mama Vara

Thursday March 21, 2019 Written by Published in Local

A New Zealand-based filmmaker is producing a documentary on local cultural icon Vara Hunter – affectionately known as Mama Vara.


Phill Palmer Productions crew were on the island last week to interview Mama Vara, her relatives and friends for the documentary.

The crew led by producer Phill Palmer and director Jacqui Gilbert also took some footage at Te Vara Nui – cultural tour experience business named after Mama Vara.

The other crew members include John Gilbert (director of photography), Kelly Palmer and Leonie Kirwan.

“We came over here to do a documentary on life of Mama Vara who is associated with Te Vara Nui. When we met her and heard about her life, we got the inspiration for the idea to do this documentary,” producer Palmer said.

“We thought it would be a wonderful opportunity to come back to the island because we love Rarotonga and the people here and also felt if I had to come back here and film something, it needs to be a very inspirational story and someone who is a local entity.”

The crew who have been on Rarotonga since Tuesday last week said they are hoping to air the documentary in New Zealand.

Palmer said they were also looking at putting it out to the international film festivals.

“More importantly, we want to bring it back to Rarotonga for screening here and they may or may not want to sell the DVDs at Te Vara Nui or on the island,” he said.

“I think it will be an interesting story for anyone who is interested in the Cook Islands and the life here, especially the cultural aspect of it.”

Director Gilbert said they were hoping to release the documentary by the end of the year.

She said the documentary would be about 45 minutes long.

“We have to do a bit of research and work especially with finding footage in New Zealand and getting some of the footage of some of the shows she has been in. It’s going to be a bit of a mission. We have to also find the footage in which she performed with (the late) Sir Howard Morrison,” Gilbert said.

“And then putting them together and there is a long process of post-production which takes as long as pre-production and that’s quite a long time.”

The crew also said the documentary would be a boost for the tourism industry here as it would largely depict the Cook Islands culture and its people.

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