I was shocked and deeply saddened to read that Merata Mita passed away. It was evidently sudden and totally unexpected and so a flood of memories rushes in as I think of the tremendous impact she had not only on the indigenous filmmaking community in general but on my life in particular.
I first met Merata sometime in the early nineties, when she came to Hawaiʻi to present one of her films at a fledgling film I had started as executive director of Pacific Islanders in Communications. I wasnʻt very familiar with her or the world of Maori filmmaking before then but by the time she left, I was in complete awe of her and of everything going on in the Maori film community in Aotearoa. Intimidated is probably a better word as I held her in such high esteem for everything she was doing for her community that I felt inadequate, and she was an inspiration to do much more. I learned much about my own culture listening to her and learning about what “indigenous storytelling” really means in telling a story through film.
We became friends over the years and she was very generous towards me with her time and advice. I will always be most grateful for the day and a half that she came to my house and sat with me to go over every word of my screenplay, “Between The Deep Blue Sea and Me”. She had had sent me copious notes in advance, as a result, our meeting was probably one of the most productive writing meetings I have ever had. She did this as a favor, not as a paid consultant, and told me she would mentor me to direct the film because she felt so strongly that I should direct it. The novel that I have since written from the screenplay (also “Between the Deep Blue Sea and Me”) even has phrases that are her direct words that I wrote as she talked. She encouraged me in whatever work I was doing, even invited me to sit in on one of her “Indigenous Esthetics” film classes as I was preparing to teach my own film course in indigenous esthetics.
Thanks to Merata and her keen intellect, her steadfast convictions, her cultural sensitivities, her creative mind and her unending generosity there is not only an indigenous film community but it is healthy and growing, including the body of work she has left behind. Her own Maori community of filmmakers has already achieved a level of recognition and excellence that we as Hawaiian filmmakers hope to reach ourselves some day. And thanks to Merata I am a better filmmaker if not a better teacher and person. Mahalo nui loa Merata. Your life mattered to many, many people and I grieve with the rest of the Maori and indigenous filmmaking community at your passing.