The new Kiwi docu-drama that wants to start a conversation about suicide

by Peter Calder / 18 July, 2018
RelatedArticlesModule - Maui's Hook movie

Māui’s Hook, a compelling new film about suicide by Paora Joseph, will have a long life as an educational resource.

Road-trip movies are something of a specialty for Paora Joseph. The youth worker turned psychologist was mentored into film-making by the legendary Don Selwyn, and he impressed in 2012 with Tātarakihi: The Children of Parihaka, in which he took youngsters to the South Island sites – mostly jails – where their forebears, veterans of the campaigns of passive resistance against the forcible confiscation of their lands, suffered and died far from home.

In his new film, Māui’s Hook, which has its world premiere at the New Zealand International Film Festival next week, the road trip is northwards. Joseph leads a group who travel from Parihaka, via Whanganui, Rotorua and Whangārei, to Te Rerenga Wairua at Cape Reinga, where, as Māori tradition has it, the spirits of the dead pass on their return journey to Hawaiki. Accompanying him are families – most Māori, one Pākehā – who have been bereaved by the suicide of a loved one.

It is an unusual documentary, since the film-maker is both instigator and chronicler of the action, and a strong presence within it. As they go, they meet locals in marae, halls and homes, sharing each others’ stories. For some, it is the first time they have spoken of their loss, and the sorrow is almost palpable: in one sobering sequence, as a family sit arrayed before the camera, as for a portrait, remembering, the widower says, with steady conviction, “This is unbearably painful; I can’t stay,” and leaves the room.

But more often, they do stay, devoted to the film’s overarching aim, which is, as Joseph told the Listener, to be “a conversation starter” about a subject that is not sufficiently talked about.

The title refers both to the shape of the journey on the landscape and to the potential for the demigod ancestor to “hook” young people back from the brink as a shepherd’s crook might snag an errant lamb. But what cannot fail to hook the viewer is the raw authenticity of the voices Joseph has captured.

The film is lent a real dramatic heft by the clever device of a fictionalised character, Tama (Niwa Whatuira), who moves through the action, unacknowledged by others. At first, it seems that he is simply alienated and isolated – in flashback inserts we see that he lives in a world of drugs, alcohol and violence, and his anger has roots in a loss of his own. But gradually we realise that his function is to strip any heroic glamour from the notion of suicide: we see, with him, not just that there is no return, but that those who survive are doomed to mourn.

There is no shortage of the statistics that contribute to this country’s miserable record in youth suicide: 600 New Zealanders kill themselves each year; there are two attempts per hour; and it is the leading cause of death for those aged 15-24. But it makes no attempt to locate Māori suicide statistics in any socio-economic or political context.

If those aspects had come up, Joseph says, they would have been included in the film. But the movie he has made is about the need to talk and keep talking. Its essence is embodied in a kaumātua’s comment in the last moments: “If you have no one to talk to, get in touch. We may not have the answers, but we can talk about it.”

Māui’s Hook screens at the New Zealand International Film Festival in Auckland on July 21 (world premiere), 23 and 24.

Where to get help with mental health

Need to talk?: free call or text 1737 to talk to a trained counsellor, anytime.

Lifeline: 0800 543 354

Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 / 0508 TAUTOKO

Depression Helpline: 0800 111 757

Samaritans: 0800 726 666

Youthline: 0800 376 633 or email talk@youthline.co.nz

Healthline: 0800 611 116

Video: Bright Sunday

This article was first published in the July 21, 2018 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

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