Graceful gesture caps lifetime achievement
Filmmaker Don Selwyn received Te Waka Toi's Te Tohutiketike award Saturday for his outstanding contribution to the development of Maori arts.
Te Mahurehure Marae in Point Chevalier was full of people from film, television and other arts who have benefited over the years from Don's expertise, inspiration and generosity.
That generosity and lifelong commitment to the kaupapa were illustrated by an act of supreme grace, when he took the $20,000 cheque he received with the award and handed it over to Brian Jones and Selwyn Muru, the trustees of a new Pei Te Hurinui Jones-Murupaenga Fellowship, which will assist the writing of plays and screenplays in Maori.
Don told of his introduction to theatre when a fellow teacher at South Wellington Intermediate got him to come along to a rehearsal for Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream. "I agreed to come along as long as he came to one of my rugby practices," he said.
Peter Bland, who was supposed to play Oberon, king of the fairies, had not turned up, so the redoubtable Nola Miller asked Don to read the part. And despite his clumsy effort, she then insisted he take the role.
In the press release, Te Waka Toi chair Elizabeth Ellis said Selwyn was recognised not only for his direct contribution as an actor, producer and director in stage, television and film, but for his tireless work in training and mentoring young Maori in the industry.
“There are many Maori working in film and television who are there because of Don Selwyn’s relentless devotion to ensuring that we had a voice in those industries. He felt strongly that not only should Màori be represented in front of the cameras but they should also be influential behind the cameras, in the technical areas, and in the director chairs."
Between 1984 to 1990, 120 Maori and Pacific Island people went through Don's film and television training course, He Taonga I Tawhiti (Gifts From Afar).
When work scheme era ended, Don met his own challenge, setting up He Taonga Films with producer Ruth Kaupua Panapa. The company has made dramas and documentaries in Maori and English, with Don’t Go Past With Your Nose in the Air winning best foreign short film at the New York Festival in 1992 and the Barry Barclay-directed film on Moriori, The Feathers of Peace, willing the 2000 New Zealand Media Peace Award.
Even closer to his heart was Maori Merchant of Venice, the first feature film entirely in te reo Maori.
Don said when he grew up in Taumarunui, Pei Te Hurunui Jones told him he translated Shakespeare's plays into Maori "so Maori would realize what a great linguist Shakespeare was."
When we hear people speaking their own language, he said, "we know the pride of themselves is in themselves."
Looking at Don's achievements and his contribution to the Maori language revival is a reminder the language is not the end game, it is merely the vehicle for the expression and creation.