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There is a strong focus on Māori cinema at imagineNATIVE 2013, with four features and two shorts programs being spotlighted. Since Māori films are often overlooked on the world stage and many Māori actors working on bigger scale films are often hired to play ethnicities other than their own, it’s nice to see a series that highlights the rich storytelling coming from New Zealand. Māori Spotlight IV: Shorts Program I consists of five shorts with the theme of “a mutual belief in the power of story to transcend culture, language, social status and ethnicity.”

Baby Steps, directed by Mark Ruka, is a slice-of-life story about a gang member who is left in charge of his infant son for a day. As he cares for his baby, he has to deal with seedy associates who come to his door for various reasons and keep them out of his house. It’s an interesting idea but the film is too short to fully bring it to life. We’re supposed to be watching a formerly tough guy start to take the “baby steps” of the title towards becoming a better father, but we never really get a sense of who this guy is and he seems like a decent enough person throughout so it’s hard to understand the conflict. There are also some poor music choices that push the film into sickly sentimentality. Despite this, there are some nice stylistic touches that show promise for Ruka. It’s a character study that just needs more time.

Other shorts in the program include Ellen is Leaving, about a woman moving overseas who tries to find her boyfriend a new girlfriend; Night Shift, a portrait of an airport cleaner who manages to survive on what people leave behind; Meathead, which chronicles a teenager’s first day of work at a meat market; and Tangaroa, a music video for Tiki Taane, one of New Zealand’s greatest contemporary urban musicians.

Is Māori Spotlight IV: Shorts Program I essential imagineNATIVE viewing?

It’s great to have this spotlight on Māori cinema, but you may want to check out the feature films instead.

Māori Spotlight IV: Shorts Program I screening times

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Māori Spotlight IV: Shorts Program I gallery