The Warbrick brothers from the 1888 NZ Natives rugby team, played by Mitchell Nikora-Baker (Alf),
Pere Durie (William), Calvin Tuteao (Joseph), Francis Kora (Fred) and Meihana Durie (Arthur).
Image courtesy of Legacy Films Ltd.

Film success for story of unsung rugby hero

It has taken six years for brothers Meihana and Pere Durie to commit the compelling story of little known 19th century Mäori rugby hero Joseph Warbrick to 12 minutes of 35mm film.

Their efforts have already started to pay off, with Warbrick picking up the Aotearoa Short Film Audience Award at the Wairoa Mäori Film Festival last month.

Meihana says the film is aimed at New Zealanders and unlocks the mystery and mystique behind some of the well-known All Black traditions of haka and the silver fern, telling the story from the players’ perspective. “We wanted to give New Zealanders an opportunity to see a story that is part of our nation's history,” he says.

The brothers are both Massey graduates. Meihana, 36, from Palmerston North, has a Bachelor of Education and is in his last year of a PhD in Mäori Studies at Massey. He lectures in the Master of Te Reo Mäori programme at Te Wänanga o Raukawa in Otaki.

Pere, 32, from Tauranga, completed a Bachelor of Arts in media studies and communications. He teaches English and film studies and coaches the third XV at Tauranga Boys' College.

They found out about Warbrick in a 1993 book called Forerunners to the All Blacks by researcher Greg Ryan. “Pere found it in a second-hand book shop and started reading it, then I read it and we started doing more research into the team at the New Zealand Rugby Museum in Palmerston North,” says Meihana.

As they did more research about the 1888 Natives tour through New Zealand, Australia and the British Isles, Warbrick, the charismatic captain of 107 games, kept emerging as central. “It was the first tour of its kind and preceded the All Blacks by several years,” says Meihana. “We became captivated by the story and the more we delved into it the more we realised it would make a good short film script.”

Calvin Tuteao (Dr Victor Kahu in television's Shortland St), plays the lead role. “When we started writing the script we both knew Calvin was the person we wanted to play Joe," says Meihana. "He played the role of Maui Pomare in a 30-minute documentary we watched. We knew he was the right person for the role; we approached him three years before we made the film.”

Over the past six years the brothers have worked on films and for television and trained in film direction and screen writing.

Soon after discovering the story they approached the Warbrick whänau about their idea to make a short film. “They were very supportive and gave us their blessing,” says Meihana. Then they began to apply for New Zealand Film Commission Short Film Funding. “It took us about four years. Eventually we got the script up to a level where it was accepted.”

As well as co-directing and co-writing, they appear in the film as two of Warbrick's four brothers who were part of the 1888 team. “Initially, we didn't have any desire to act in our own film. There were a small number of actors who were called away at the 12th hour for commercials and feature film shoots and we realised we'd run out of options. In the end, however, stepping into these roles seemed the right thing to do. We also knew we needed 15 players to make up the team. It was good to have the opportunity to be in the film and be one of the Warbrick brothers.”

Both brothers acknowledge the significance of the widespread support that they have received in making Warbrick. “We were lucky to have a skilled cast and crew and support from a number of New Zealand film industry professionals, our wives and wider whänau.” The brothers are the youngest children of Assistant Vice-Chancellor (Mäori and Pasifika) Professor Mason Durie and Professor Arohia Durie.

Warbrick is part of the New Zealand Film Festival in Auckland and Wellington this month and next. Meihana and Pere are now working on other film projects aimed at reflecting unique aspects of New Zealand.

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