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Michael Wald April 24, 2006

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Michael Wald

April 24, 2006

Assessment Two

Australian Cinema

Whale Rider

Part One: Film Information, Licensing, and Box Office Results

The Principle Cast of Whale Rider

Kiesha Castle-Hughes - Paikea

Rawiri Paratene - Koro

Vicky Haughton - Nanny Flowers

Cliff Curtis - Porourangi

Grant Roa - Uncle Rawiri

Mana Taumana - Hemi

Rachel House - Shilo

Taungaroa Emile - Willie

Tammy Davis - Maka

Rawinia Clarke - Miro

Takei Simpson - Miss Parata

Directed by Niki Caro
Based on the Novel by Witi Ihimaera

Screenplay by Niki Caro

Produced by John Barnett

Co-Producer - Reinhard Brundik

Executive Producers - Bill Gavin, Linda Goldstein Knowlton
Original Music by Lisa Gerrard and Jeremy Sweet
Cinematography by Leon Narbey
Film edited by David Coulson
Casting By Diana Rowan
Production Design by Grant Magor
Art Direction by Grace Mok
Costume Design by Kirsty Cameron

Production Companies

Apollo Media

New Zealand Film Commission

New Zealand Film Production Fund

New Zealand on Air (NZ on Air)

Pandora Filmproduktion GmbH

South Pacific Pictures


Buena Vista International (Australia), 2003

Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment (USA), 2003, released on DVD
MPAA: Rated PG13 for brief language and a momentary drug reference

Runtime: 101 minutes


Sound Mix: Dobly Digital

Budget: Approx. 6,000,000 (NZD)
Release Dates for major countries:
Canada 9 September, 2002 (Toronto Film Festival)

Spain 23 September, 2002 (San Sebastian Film Festival)

United States of America 18 January, 2003 (Sundance Film Festival)

New Zealand 30 January, 2003

Australia 8 May, 2003

Germany 14 August, 2003

Japan 13 September, 2003

France 17 September, 2003

Box Office Results

USA Release, first weekend, 8 June, 2003, totaling $137,418 (US)

By the 23 November, 2003, Gross Amount was $20,772,796 (US)
UK Release, running from July 2003 to August 2003, Gross Amount was £896, 301 (UK)


Awards and Nominations (not a complete list)
Academy Awards, USA

2004, Nominated for and Oscar, Best Actress in a Leading Role - Keisha Castle-Role

Australian Film Institute

2003, Nominated for Best Foreign Film - John Barnett, Frank Hubner, Tim Sanders

BAFTA Awards

2003, Won BAFTA Childrens' Award, Best Feature Film - Tim Sanders, John Barnett,

Frank Hubner, Niki Caro
British Independent Film Awards

2003, Nominated for Best Foreign Film

New Zealand Film and TV Awards

2003, Won: Best Actress - Keisha Castle-Hughes

Best Costume Design - Kirsty Cameron

Best Director - Niki Caro

Best Film - Tim Sanders, John Barnett

Best Juvenile Performer - Mana Taumaunu

Best Original Music - Lisa Gerrard

Best Screenplay - Niki Caro

Best Supporting Actor - Cliff Curtis

Best Supporting Actress - Vicky Haughton


Best Actor - Rawiri Paratene

Best Cinematography - Leon Narbey

Best Design - Grant Major

Best Editing - David Coulson

Best Makeup - Denise Kum

Best Supporting Actor - Grant Roa

This list was made from the list of Awards and Nominations at the Internet Movie Data Base webpage for Whale Rider (2002), where a complete list can be found. An extended list of Cast and Crew, as well as other technical information and Box Office Statistics is also available.

For Awards and Nominations:
For Cast and Crew:
For the General Website:




Bibliography of interviews with cast, filmmakers, etc., :
Whale Rider - the movie (official webpage for the movie).

Whale Rider (DVD). "Behind the Scenes Featurette". Columbia/Tristar. Released

October 28, 2003.

Bibliography of reviews and critical analyses':
Caro, Mark. Whale Rider - movie review. Chicago Tribune.

Ebert, Roger. Whale Rider. June 20th, 2003. Chicago Sun Times.

Kenny, Glenn. Whale Rider - Review. Posted May 6th, 2002. Premiere: The Movie

Magazine. ber=1
Knight, Timothy. Whale Rider (2003).


Linden, Sheri. Whale Rider. The Film Journal International and the Hollywood

Reporter. June 5th, 2003.

Travers, Peter. Whale Rider. Rolling Stone. May 30th, 2003.


Part Two: Plot, Success, and Critical Responses

Whale Rider is a film that manages to tie a collection of interesting and emotional themes together seamlessly. Failure, Hope, Strength, Forgiveness, and Determination are just some of the qualities witnessed in the storm that forms when past, present, and future ideals collide. The story is set in the small coastal town of Whangara, New Zealand. Here lives the Maori people, brought there generations ago by the legendary first ancestor named Paikea. The myth of Paikea consists of his amazing rescue by a whale after his canoe was lost at sea. He rode the whale all the way to the safety of the shore, and founded the Maori people. From that day, An eldest son was always chosen to be the Chief of the tribe, leading the people politically and spiritually.

The beginning of the movie starts out with Porourangi standing by his wife as she gives birth to two children. Unfortunately, both the wife and the son die, leaving a girl behind. The grandfather, Koro, is upset about this turn of events. He was looking forward to teaching the boy in the old ways to become the new village chief, after the disappointment that Porourangi, his own son caused him by leaving the village. Matters are worsened when Porourangi gives the child the same name as the legend: Paikea. Koro is furious, knowing that being a girl, even with the name of the Paikea, she does not have the right to ever become what her dead brother was meant to be.

Time jumps to when Paikea is grown and attending middle school. Despite the gruffness seen in the first scene, we see a softer side to Koro, as he trucks along on his bicycle with "Pai" sitting in front of him. Pai has been brought up by Koro and the nanny, as we find out that Porourangi has been away again traveling Europe. His absence is soon corrected as he comes back to the village for a reunion with Pai and Koro. He has been gone a long time, and father and son embrace closely in the way of the Maori, by touching noses.

Tension resurfaces though as the wounds of the past are opened during an argument between Koro and Porourangi. Pai knows the position that her brother was meant to fulfill, and feels that Koro is always looking down at her as unworthy and nothing more then a simple girl. Despite this constant attitude from her Grandfather, Pai feels that she herself was meant to be the leader of the village, and fights to prove this in the eyes of Koro.

This is a great relationship to watch throughout the film, as the stubbornness and beliefs of Koro are set against Pai's childish innocence and powerful self-determination. Pai always shows a distinguished and untarnished respect for Koro though, as a child always looking up to an elder no matter what the elder may think of them. She loves her grandfather with all her heart, but also has the courage to speak, usually through her actions, that she is the future of the tribe.

One of the best scenes between the two shows them working on the engine of an old boat that Porourangi had been building before Pai was born. As they work, Pai asks Koro about the ancestors and the whale that Paikea rode in on. Koro uses the metaphor of the twines making up the engines starting rope, to represent how the ancestors are strong and hold everything together for the Maori. Ironically, the rope breaks in Koro's hands, and he grumbles off to find a new one. Pai picks up the rope, re-ties it, and starts the engine with it. She is immensely excited about it, but Koro reprimands her immediately, telling her to never do that again.

Koro disciplining Pai is something that occurs over and over, especially when she is interfering with his goals of finding a new leader among the boys of the village. As a final test for the boys to see who will become chief, Koro takes them out to a spot in the ocean and tosses his whale tooth necklace into the depths. The object: the boy to retrieve it will become the leader for the future. To Koro's dismay though, none of the boys can reclaim the relic, and they are forced to return empty handed. Koro, seeing all his efforts to find a new chief fail, falls into a depressed and hopeless state.

Uncle Rawiri, who was with Koro during the final test, later returns to the spot with Pai, and asks her if she can retrieve the whale tooth. She jumps in, and returns after a giving them a scare for being gone such as long time. Not only does she bring the tooth, but she also brings up a lobster for Koro's tea. Pai does not realize what it means to find the whale tooth, she is only thinking trying to make her Grandfather happy again.

The climax of the film then takes place at a school ceremony, where Pai is honored for winning an essay contest about her essay on the pride and love she has for Koro. Koro, making the hard decision to attend, begins to walk to the school, but is drawn to the beach instead where he discovers many whales stranded in the sand. All night and into the morning, the whole village tries to keep the whales alive. Just down the beach, the biggest of them all is held up, and everyone tries to turn it around using rope and a tractor. The rope snaps though, the men are tired, and so the effort is given up until after they rest. Pai stays behind with the whale though, unknowingly to the rest of the villagers as they walk up the beach. She climbs up and sits on top of the gigantic beast, which sparks enough strength in it to struggle around and push itself back into the water. Uncle Rawiri looks back, and exclaims in astonishment that the whale is gone, and then realizes that Pai is missing as well. Everyone is strickened with this new horror, as none of them can see Pai or the whale anywhere. Meanwhile, Pai is riding the whale, up and down through the cold water, just like her ancestor of long ago once did. The rain and freezing seawater finally overcome her, forcing her to let go. Later that night, she is discovered on the shore, but is in shock and unconscious. In the hospital then, Pai lies asleep with Koro by her side, who finally calls her a "wise leader" and asks her for her forgiveness. She opens her eyes and smiles.

The final scene of the movie shows a completed canoe now, with all of the villagers out dancing and singing as it is pushed into the water. Men jump up and begin rowing out into the ocean, chanting all as one, with Koro and Pai sitting at the center.

Whale Rider is a great example of the problems that many cultures and families are facing around the globe. Past ways and rituals are trying to stay alive as the world changes into one focused on the now and future. In order to keep both past and future hopes alive, sometimes they must find a compromise. The leader of the Maori has always been a male, but Pai follows her heart and becomes the new chief of the village. Through this process, there is pain on both her and her family, but the pain finally turns into happiness and hope by the end of the film.

Another social issue that can be found practically anywhere that is brought up by the film is the function of the woman in a world dominated and controlled mostly by men. This is still relevant to cultures everywhere today, as women seek to gain a place for themselves among the successful and hard working. The movie shows this visually and thematically all throughout the story. During Pai's school concerts, she is center stage, while all of the boys are around her following her moves. She also defeats the strongest boy in a fight with ritualistic sticks, showing that a woman can stand up to the strongest of her peers. Perhaps the best example though of the truth and strength in Pai comes through the use of the rope. Koro tells her of how all the little pieces wrapped together make the rope strong as one, and then it breaks in his hands. But Pai, the true leader, fixes it, uniting the old ways again through her youthful heart, and starts the engine, an engine for the Maori people. Later, another rope breaks, symbolizing how the giant men and the village cannot free the whale with all of their might. Again, Pai is the savior, and is able to move the whale at the risk of her own life. By the end, through all of the hardships both Koro and Pai experienced, the village embraces the past through song and dance, but also shows they are ready for the future, accepting a girl, Pai, as their chief.

The idea of the story first came when writer Witi Ihimaera was living in New York in 1989, when a whale was sighted in the Hudson River. This reminded him of the stories of whales and ancestors that he heard as a boy, especially the one of Paikea, the Whale Rider. After the book was finished, John Barnett, a producer, got a hold of it and thought that it had great movie potential if done correctly. Various scripts were written and none were able to capture what Witi and John were looking for. Finally, they decided to turn to Niki Caro, a director from New Zealand. She came up with a script that instantly sold them and was also asked to direct the film. A few problems still lay in the way though for making Whale Rider. The first was the financing, which was helped greatly when Tim Sanders, producer for Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, joined the team. With his expertise, the film managed to become the "first film to be produced with investment from the New Zealand Production Fund", a government organization set up to help with the cost of New Zealand films. (Whale Rider, web) Executive Producer Bill Gavin was also a great help, securing funds from the New Zealand Film Commission, Apollomedia, and NZ On Air. The next problem that everyone knew was to find the perfect girl to play Pai. It was thought by everyone that if Pai was not right, then the whole story would faulter and lack the necessary energy and emotion. Director Niki Caro wanted "not a child actor, but a real child". (Whale Rider, web) Out of 10,000 children, Keisha Castle-Hughes was discovered, standing out from the rest with talent and charisma.

Upon the film's first screening at the Toronto Film Festival in Canada on September 9th, 2002, it immediately gained much respect from critics and movie goers, rewarding Niki Caro with the People's Choice Award. From there it went on to other major film festivals such as Sundance and Tribecca, and gained international recognition when released to limited theatres globally, ranging from Argentina to the Netherlands. At the 2003 New Zealand Film and TV Awards, it dominated, winning Best Actress, Best Costume Design, Best Director, Best Film, Best Juvenile Performer, Best Original Music, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Screenplay, along with being nominated for basically every other category.

Keisha Castle-Hughes' performance was met with the most respect, earning her an Oscar Nomination for Best Actress in a Leading Role in 2003. Glenn Kenny from Premiere Movie Magazine talked about how Pai was "A moving study of steely determination and little-girl vulnerability living in one body" (Kenny, web). Critics also loved how although the story dealt with a distant people who lived on a remote coast in New Zealand, the story still some how had the power to touch audiences everywhere, regardless of their nationality. From the Chicago Tribune, movie reviewer Mark Caro wrote, "The more culturally specific a story is, the more universal it may turn out to be" (Caro, web). Roger Ebert's review was also that of praise, writing about the last scenes of the film, "It's not just an uplifting ending, but a transcendendt one, insprired and inspiring, and we realize how special this movie really is" (Ebert, web).

Before Whale Rider, Niki Caro was mostly known for her short films and TV work in 2001 on the Television show Mercy Peak. She had also completed a feature film titled Memory and Desire, which won Best Design, Best Film, Best Foreign Film Performer, and Special Jury Prize at the 1999 New Zealand Film and TV Awards. Her latest film that she has directed, North Country (2005), deals again with women trying to work in a men's system. The film starred Charlize Theron as a miner working with a group of ladies amongst men who taunted and abused them over and over again until finally Theron takes them to court. North Country was nominated for two Oscars, for Best Performance by and Actress in a Leading Role and Best Actress in a Supporting Role.

Whale Rider was Keisha Castle-Hughes' first picture as an actress, and since then she has been continuing her film career. She recently starred as Queen of Naboo in Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith, and has been cast in two other movies due out this year (Hey, Hey its Esther Bluburger, Writen and Directed by Cathy Randall, and Nativity, directed by Catherine Hardwicke). A big celebrity actor in Whale Rider was Cliff Curtis, who played Pai's father, Porourangi. Before Whale Rider, he played roles in blockbuster hits such as Three Kings, The Insider, Blow, and Training Day. Since Whale Rider, Curtis has acted mainly in short New Zealand pictures, but has two or three big-budget films coming out soon, such as The Fountain and Sunshine.

Due to the great international success of Whale Rider, it has become the movie to compare other movies to that come out of New Zealand, especially ones involving the family. And although the movie is yet another film that shows off the great visual landscape of New Zealand, the real magic takes place in the story and its characters. It is a family film, showing the interaction of three generations, representing the past, present, and future of the Maori people. At the same time though, it is a personal film, presenting the lives of individuals and how each deals with Maori customs in present day society. This can be the struggle and fight to keep the past alive by Koro, the distant but returning and loving Porourangi, or ultimately the determination and heart of Pai. Just as the rope is made up of smaller strands to make it strong, so exists the family, being held together by its members as one force.

This film's great success is most likely due from this emotional dialogue and presentation of family generations. John Barnett, producer, comments, "I think one of the most exciting things about Whale Rider is its international resonance - the themes are relevant in all sorts of societies and cultures throughout the world" (Whale Rider, web) As a personal, family drama, set in the remote village of the Maori, it shows how ever far apart people may be, they are all similar. People all have the same emotions; they all cry, they all laugh, etc. A Maori family, regardless of their beliefs or rituals, can be just like an American family or a Chinese family. When the audience is watching the film, they are linked to their own family experiences through the ones coming through in the story. "Oh yes, we have that same problem at our house" or "Oh my child did won an essay contest too", are thoughts one might think. It is at this point the movie exists more then just a movie on a screen, but establishes a personal form of communication between one family and another, stripping away all cultural, racial, and geographical boundaries in the process.

In the end, this film can teach people things about themselves, their parents, and their children. The old culture is continuously struggling to keep itself alive through the generations, in a world that is always changing and leaving the past behind. But a balance is possible to reach- the new learning from the old as well as the old learning form the new. Thanks to the strength and will of Pai, it shows New Zealanders, as well as the rest of the world, that the past can continue to live on in harmony with the days still to come.


Caro, Mark. Whale Rider - movie review. Chicago Tribune.


Ebert, Roger. Whale Rider. June 20th, 2003. Chicago Sun Times.

Internet Movie Data Base. Whale Rider (2002)



Kenny, Glenn. Whale Rider - Review. Posted May 6th, 2002. Premiere: The Movie


Whale Rider - the movie (official webpage for the movie).

Special Thanks to The Internet Movie Data Base, and all the

information that they offered or helped find in the research of the film,

Whale Rider.

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