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Sundance Institute's Merata Mita Fellowship Awarded to New Zealand Filmmakers

The New Zealand Film Commission (NZFC) congratulates Ainsley Gardiner and Briar Grace-Smith on receiving the 2019 Sundance Institute Merata Mita Fellowship announced at the Sundance Film Festival today.  Selected from a global call for applicants, Gardiner and Grace-Smith will receive cash grants and a year-long programme of support from the Sundance Institute including mentorships and attending the Sundance Film Festival.

Images of Ainsley Gardiner and Briar Grace-Smith are courtesy of the NZ Film Commission.

Ainsley Gardiner (Ngāti Awa, Ngāti Pikiao and Te-Whānau-ā-Apanui) is the producer of short films Tama Tū and Two Cars, One Night, features Boy, Eagle vs Shark, The Breaker Upperers and She Shears, among others. As a writer/director, her work includes short films Mokopuna and Mihi, one of the eight short films that make up feature film, Waru.

Briar Grace-Smith (Ngā Puhi, Ngāti Hau) is a filmmaker and writer with credits including stage plays, fiction, television scripts and screenplays including The Strength of Water which was developed in the Sundance Institute’s Screenwriters’ lab.  She wrote and directed Charm, the opening vignette in Waru. In 2017 she was awarded the NZFC’s Ramai Hayward Directors’ Scholarship for wahine Māori.

Ainsley and Briar are currently collaborating on a new feature film.

“It’s such an honour to have the Sundance Institute recognise the inspiring work of Ainsely and Briar with the prestigious Merata Mita Fellowship,” said Annabelle Sheehan, NZFC CEO.  “Ainsely and Briar are representative of the ever-increasing wave of Māori talent actively creating screen stories. Merata Mita’ s legacy for all First Nations film makers is an important touchstone for the NZFC and we are committed to supporting films led by Māori creatives and extremely proud to support the Fellowship.”

Now in its fourth year, the Merata Mita Fellowship is named in honour of pioneering Māori filmmaker,  Merata Mita who passed away suddenly in 2010. The first and only Māori woman to write and direct a feature film with 1988’s Mauri, Mita was advisor and artistic director of the Sundance Institute Native Lab from 2000 to 2009.

Mita’s life, work and legacy is explored in Merata: How Mum Decolonised the Screen, a documentary feature which is receiving its international premiere at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.  The film, directed by Mita’s youngest son, Heperi Mita,  will next screen in the NATIVe special presentation section of the Berlinale.

You will find more information about the Merata Mita Fellowship and the Sundance Institute here.


Published on 29th January 2019