Once Were Warriors

Director: Lee Tamahori
Screenwriters: Riwia Brown, Alan Duff

Institute History

  • 1995 Sundance Film Festival


Based on Alan Duff’s novel, Once Were Warriors invokes the pride of New Zealand’s Maori people. Films like Te Rua and The Piano have portrayed Maoris in the magnificent, colonial New Zealand of rugged coasts, isolated beaches, and windswept mountains. The reality of twentieth-century urban New Zealand is very different. Junk and garbage fill the muddy backyards of prefabricated government housing. The rush of the wind has been replaced by the roar of traffic, and once-proud Maori families are forced to live in poverty.

Against this grey, shattered backdrop live the Hekes. Beth struggles to give her five children some semblance of a family life, in spite of the drunken and violent behavior of her husband, Jake. Holding the family together is Grace, the eldest, with a gift for writing. What happens to her forces Beth to dig deeply to create new hope for the future.

Brutal, uncompromising, and completely unsentimental, Once Were Warriors explores the anger and frustration of a proud culture destroyed. Masterful images of a people adrift in urban horror, and powerful and moving performances have made it the highest grossing film in New Zealand’s box-office history.

— Christian Gaines

Screening Details

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