Hei Tiki (1935): Film Histories Past and Present

  • Peter Limbrick


The Ealing films exemplified some of the ways that imperial and settler histories shaped and complicated public discourses about a national cinema in Australia. The case of Hei Tiki, directed by Alexander Markey, an American, and shot in the central North Island of Aotearoa/New Zealand with an all-Māori cast, makes for an even more complex interweaving of imperial, settler, and indigenous histories and cinema. The film creates a Romeo and Juliet romance from the story of two rival Māori tribes, framed by a sequence in which Markey, as narrator, suggests that the entire production is his ethnographic record of a people reenacting their ancient legend. Already, then, the film seems to be something of an oddity and certainly its status as a film shot in New Zealand, with Māori actors, but by an itinerant American director has rendered it problematic for histories of New Zealand cinema. In most discussions, Hei Tiki fast disappears from view, with attention turning instead to productions with more prestige and better national credentials. In this chapter I wish to take seriously the seemingly odd case of Hei Tiki because I believe it can reorient the writing of New Zealand film history with respect to issues of the transnational, the national, and the local and can suggest ways of understanding the condition of settler societies in the present.


Film Production Copyright Holder Contemporary Life Settler Society Colonial Encounter 
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© Peter Limbrick 2010

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  • Peter Limbrick

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