Madrid, Spain, December 2020
Artist, poet and filmmaker Charles Olsen writes about the creation of the poetry film Noho Mai.
I don’t think any of us had an inkling of where this would lead when we were setting up a te reo Māori poetry film workshop back in February. As I write, the collaborative film we created, ‘Noho Mai’, has premiered in the Wairoa Māori Film Festival in Aotearoa, was one of 34 films chosen from around 2000 entries for the ZEBRA Poetry Film Competition in Berlin, Germany, has won the Ó Bhéal Poetry Film Competition in Cork, Ireland, was part of the Aotearoa New Zealand Film Showcase 2020 in the Honolulu Museum of Art, and has been selected for Cinemística in Granada, the 9th International Video Poetry Festival in Athens.
The roots of this project go back to my childhood and visits out to Ōtākou marae in the 1970s and my father’s work as a minister with ngā tangata Māori in Dunedin. It also grew out of my own experience of writing and reading poetry in Spanish, a language I couldn’t speak when I first arrived in Spain back in 2003. Together with Colombian poet Lilián Pallares, I began exploring the world of poetry film and we set up an online poetry project in Spanish called Palabras Prestadas (Given Words). I began my te reo journey in 2018 with the Tōku Reo series and am currently on a course with Te Wānanga o Raukawa.
In January 2020, Lilián and I began a one-year residency in the Matadero Madrid Centre for Artists in Residence on the theme of ‘Childhood, play and public space’. Thanks to this we have had the time and space to develop a number of related projects. We reached out through Ngāti Rānana and got in touch with poet and performer Peta-Maria Tunui who was keen to be involved, and as we were putting out a call for participants the pandemic was building fast and soon we were confined to our houses both here in Spain and in New Zealand. We decided to move everything online and set up a private Facebook group ‘He awheawhe kiriata-ā-toikupu – Poetry Film workshop’ which meant we weren’t limited to any one location. The course followed tikanga Māori with guidance from Peta-Maria and involved a series of tasks that included writing a poem with kupu we’d each chosen related with childhood. As we are all at different levels with our te reo we could mix it up with English if necessary.
Peta-Maria Tunui: ‘…a new challenge for me! I’d say my level of language acquisition is probably around a 7-8 year old, so I also found that writing in te reo pulled me back a bit to forms of language that felt like I was writing something really childish. It’s cool, but also forced me to let go of some of my expectations of what I wanted to create and just accept what formed.’
For me it reminded me of learning Spanish and putting myself in situations where I had no choice but to use the language. Later when people were surprised to learn I wrote poems in Spanish I’d say I felt like a child finding beautiful stones on a beach, playing with them – their colours, sounds, shapes – and building something new. In a way it is less about the words themselves than about the enjoyment of play and finding ways to arrange the language around your ideas.
We introduced examples of poetry films and provided articles and links to websites such as movingpoems.com that specialize in the subject. We then invited each person to make a one-minute video based on the opening stanza of their poem and share it with the group. Poetry film can take on many different forms. The ZEBRA Poetry Film Festival considers eligible for their competition ‘short films which are based on poems and are no more than 20 minutes in duration’. A poem can be recorded in audio or written on screen for example, and the combination of image and sound plays a vital role in expanding on, or adding atmosphere or context, to the poem, or sometimes visuals or the sounds come first and inspire a text.
Our final objective of the workshop was to make a collaborative poetry film to submit to the ZEBRA Poetry Film Competition and the deadline was 1st July 2020. We decided to use the poem Peta-Maria had written, ‘Noho Mai’. We began with a Zoom meeting to brainstorm ideas, to discuss how to keep a unity as we worked separately in different places, and whether we could introduce taonga puoro, waiata, or possibly a karakia. We thought about how the idea of childhood can be suggested by different camera angles, how traditional and modern visuals can combine in the poem. We invited friends to contribute. Salvador Brown offered a selection of beautiful puoro sound recordings and documentary filmmaker Ash Robinson provided some stunning aerial footage. Then each group prepared and filmed different sections of the poem and we waited to see what would happen. We invite you to read Peta-Maria Tunui’s poem and imagine how you would create your own images from it for a poetry film (the English translation follows below).
e ngā manu nui, manu iti
i te ata hāpara aro atu rā
ki te hihi whero
o te pae tāwhiti
i reira rere ai te karoro
inuhia te tai
ka mānu te pōkai
i ngā kapua nui
e paroro ai
i reira rere ai te karoro
ka hikina ngā parerau
e te puna hau a Tawhirirangi
rere atu rā
mā te waiata aroha a tōu iwi e kawe
mā te tirohanga o tōu maunga e whakamanawanui
rere atu rā
mā te kākara o tōu moana e manaaki
mā te kōrero a ōu tūpuna hei huruhuru
e ngā manu o te ngahere
i te awatea, whāia te iti kahurangi,
i te ata pō
hoki mai anō
ki te kainga
tukua, kia ngā tōu manawa.
Birds large and small
At the dawning of the day
Look to the sliver of red that is
the distant horizon
There the black gull flies
Drinker of tides
The flock floats in
Large clouds storming
There the black gull flies
Swallower of skies
Their wings lifted by
a pool of Tawhirirangi’s breath
Let the love songs of your people carry you
Let the vision of your mountain strengthen you
Let the aroma of your waters nourish you
Let the words of your ancestors be as feathers
Birds of the forest
At dawn, pursue the loftiest peaks
And at dusk return
To your home
To your nest
We had under two weeks left to make the final film and as each group sent me their material I wove it together respecting their editing decisions as much as possible. Each day I shared the latest edit and my comments on the process, not just of the images but also the development of the soundtrack. We wanted to include a nod towards Colombia so I recorded the sound of the kuisi – an indigenous Colombian flute made from a hollowed cactus stem with a beeswax and charcoal head and a quill mouthpiece made from the feather of a large bird – to compliment the evocative sounds of the taonga puoro. The conversation between Aotearoa and Spain is also present in the visuals such as a red balloon strung between buildings during the lockdown here in Madrid to keep people’s spirits up or the swifts that flew in circles over our flat every morning and were a constant company and reminder of freedom throughout the making of the film.
Jesse-Ana Harris: ‘I was reading aloud the poem as I sat by the lake at sunset and it was the first time my wairua connected to its depth… and it brought me to tears.’
There were many special moments during the whole process, especially for Lilián and me still in confinement in Madrid as we saw these scenes from the antipodes and the way each group brought out different aspects of the poem. Having left New Zealand as a child there was a special poignancy for me in this whole process, my re-connection with my home and a feeling that I am one of the birds in the poem still reaching for the peaks. A deep feeling of aroha.
In the last few days before the deadline we were finalizing the credits, preparing a synopsis to submit to festivals and making sure everyone was happy with the results. We submitted it the day before the deadline just to be on the safe side. And then we waited as our bird flew out into the skies and our hope is it will carry our message to ngā tangata whenua in distant lands. So far we have received messages of its journey to Wairoa, Berlin, Cork, Honolulu, Athens and Granada…
After the workshop I received a beautiful koha from the group with kupu and poems reflecting on the workshop experience, along with the sketches by Peta-Maria which are included above. Our project began online as the pandemic started and as it continues we would like to offer our kiriata-ā-toikupu to the world and share Noho Mai with you here on Love in the Time of COVID.
‘Mō koutou e noho tāwhiti ana i te kainga, mō koutou anō te ahi kā.’
For you who live far from home and for you who keep the home fires burning.
Watch the film here:
More about the film, with interviews and appearances around the world…
Breaking news! NOHO MAI has been selected for Maoriland Film Festival in Otaki, and will be shown on 27 March 2021, in the programme Haumaru Shorts.
Winner of the eighth International Poetry-Film Competition run by Irish arts organisation Ó Bhéal. Judges’ notes here.
Interview about NOHO MAI on Te Ao, Māori Television (from minute 42), December 2020
‘Te reo poetry film wins a major Irish award’ – Peta-Maria Tunui and Waitahi Aniwaniwa McGee talk about NOHO MAI with Lynn Freeman on RNZ Standing Room Only – Podcast, December 2020
Interview Waitahi Aniwaniwa McGee and Charles Olsen talk about NOHO MAI win at Ó Bheal’s Poetry Film Festival on Waatea Radio – Podcast, November 2020
Maori love poem in Berlin short film final on Waatea News, November 2020
Interview Peta-Maria Tunui and Charles Olsen talk about NOHO MAI at ZEBRA Poetry Film Festival on Waatea Radio Podcast, November 2020
NOHO MAI flies to Germany, The Big Idea, November 2020
DIRECTORS Peta-Maria Tunui, Waitahi Aniwaniwa McGee, Shania Bailey-Edmonds, Jesse-Ana Harris, Lilián Pallares, Charles Olsen POEM Peta-Maria Tunui VOICE Shania Bailey-Edmonds ACTORS Shania Bailey-Edmonds, Peta-Maria Tunui, Jesse-Ana Harris, Charles Olsen EDITOR Charles Olsen PRODUCER Antenablue FIELD CAMERAS Waitahi Aniwaniwa McGee, Ikey Ihaka Tunui, Charles Olsen AERIAL CAMERA Ash Robinson TAONGA PUORO Salvador Brown COLOMBIAN GAITA Charles Olsen KARANGA Peta-Maria Tunui SOUND MIX Charles Olsen ENGLISH TRANSLATION Peta-Maria Tunui FILMED IN Aotearoa–New Zealand: Te Whanganui-a-Tara, Waitaha, Te Tai Rāwhiti, and Spain: Madrid, Soria
Peta-Maria Tunui is an Aotearoa poet and creative who writes to express the beauty and pain of discovering and re-discovering her identity and connection as a proud wahine Māori. She has published poetry in Eat Your Words (2010), performed with In*ter*is*land Collective in the Mana Moana/Mana Wāhine exhibition, and performed collaborative works for Musee du Quai Branley during the Oceania exhibition. More here.
Shania Bailey-Edmonds is of Ngā Puhi, Ngāti Porou, Te Ātiawa and Ngāti Tama tribes. Born in Wellington, she is in her final year in the Acting Course at Te Kura Toi Whakaari: New Zealand Drama School. Especially drawn to indigenous work and processes, Shania aspires to create work that commits to telling the stories of her own people and having truth at the heart of all she does.
Jesse Ana Harris grew up in a big family in New Zealand. Since she was little she has loved playing with words – the sounds, the meanings – jumbling them up and making new ones. Currently working as a medical doctor, poetry is one space she feels free.
Waitahi Aniwaniwa McGee is of Māori decent. She whakapapas to the iwi (tribes) of Ngāti Wai, Ngāti Tuwharetoa, Ngāti Maniapoto, Te Āti Awa and Ngāti Tama ki te Tau Ihu. She is a young artist in her second year at Te Kura Toi Whakaari ō Aotearoa: New Zealand Drama School. She hopes to be a Multi-Media creative in the future.
Lilián Pallares, a Colombia writer and actress, received the XIV distinction ‘Poetas de Otros Mundos’ from the Fondo Poético Internacional in 2017. Her passion for folklore and African roots, and her love of the word led her to create her show, ‘Afrolyrics – a story of love and drums’, which unites poetry, dance, the oral storytelling tradition and world percussion. In 2020, together with Charles Olsen, she has received an Arts Residency at the Matadero Madrid Centre for Creative Arts. Her most recent poetry collection is Bestial (2019). lilianpallares.com
Charles Olsen (New Zealand, 1969) has lived in Spain since 2003. Artist, poet and filmmaker, his short film ‘The dance of the brushes’ won second prize in the Flamenco Short Film Festival, Madrid, 2010, and his paintings have been shown in Madrid, Barcelona, Oporto, Paris, Wellington and the Saatchi Gallery, London. His latest poetry collection is Antípodas (2016). In 2018 he was awarded the III Antonio Machado Fellowship of Segovia and Soria, and in 2017 the XIII distinction Poetas de Otros Mundos (Poets from Other Worlds) by the Fondo Poético Internacional in Spain. Alongside Lilián Pallares he runs the audiovisual production company antenablue. Their work has been in international poetry film festivals and featured in Moving Poems, Poetry Film Live and Atticus Review. Charles has contributed essays to the forthcoming The Poetics of Poetry Film, Bristol: Intellect Books, S. Tremlett (ed). charlesolsen.es