Whale Rider

Director: Niki Caro
Screenwriters: Niki Caro

Institute History

  • 2003 Sundance Film Festival


All of the Whangara people are asking—even the herd of giant whales at sea wants to know: Who will be chief? Niki Caro's wonderfully inspired feature, Whale Rider, is a lush and radiant tale about a Maori community's struggle to overcome its own limitations and the coming of age of one exceptional little girl.

Pai's (Keisha Castle-Hughes) twin brother is in line to be chief of a small tribal village on the New Zealand coast. But when he and his mother die during childbirth and Pai's grief-stricken father flees the village, she becomes a curse and burden in the eyes of her grandfather, Chief Koro. His own son failing him, Koro embarks on a mission to find a successor from the pool of village boys. He starts a leadership class for them which Pai takes an interest in. But what would happen if a girl tried to enter the pantheon of leaders? It is a question that neither Koro nor any other member of the community is ready to answer.

An extraordinarily beautiful film filled with sweeping landscapes, whales, and a breathtaking performance by the stunning young first-time actress Castle-Hughes, Whale Rider is an emotionally powerful story of love, rejection, bravery, and destiny.

— Shari Frilot

Screening Details

Sundance Film Festival Awards

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