Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Muru: a theological film review

Monthly I write a film review for Touchstone (the New Zealand Methodist magazine). Stretching back to 2005, some 165 plus films later, here is the review for October 2022.

A film review by Dr Steve Taylor

Understanding the history of Aotearoa requires tracing a whakapapa, or lineage, of state violence. The invasion of Parikaha in 1881 and the shooting of two Māori at Maungapōhatu in 1915, continue to reverberate through our history.

In 2007, Police conducted dawn raids on private homes throughout New Zealand. Dressed in black, armed with machine guns and knives, Police smashed doors, windows and furniture. A school bus with three people on board was stopped and searched. The police press conference later that day used the language of ‘terror raids.’ While seventeen people were initially arrested, Solicitor General, Dr David Collins, refused to allow charges to be laid under the Terrorism Suppression Act 2002.

In 2014, Police Commissioner Mike Bush apologised to the communities of Ruatoki and Taneatua. It was one attempt at muru, a Māori concept for reconciliation and forgiveness.

One of those arrested was Tama Iti. Interviewed at his art gallery on the main street of Taneatua ten years later, Iti spoke of the power of imagination. “We create [art] to keep communication open. Provoking thoughts and conversation is important.” (“Tuhoe community 10 years after the Urewera raids,” Stuff).

Muru is an imaginative rely to Iti’s gracious invitation to keep conversations open. Director Tearepa Kahi wanted to respond, rather than recreate, the terror raids of 2007. One way to provoke thought is to ask, “What if”?

What if people are angry and alienated? In the forests of Te Urewera, Tama Iti runs Camp Rama (fire light), teaching survival skills and preserving Tūhoe identity. Around a campfire, one man’s joke about a politician becomes a credible threat in the eyes of an eves-dropping Special Tactics Group (STG) surveillance team.

What if a drunk young man smashes mainstreet windows? Local Police officer ‘Taffy’ Tawharau (Cliff Curtis) guides a drunk Rusty (Poroaki Merritt-McDonald) back to his bed. The following day, a regretful Rusty sets off with his broom to make muru. In the eyes of another, one man’s broom handle becomes a long-handled weapon.

What if Police misused their powers? An armed STG officer (Manu Bennet as Kimiora) takes aim at a running Rusty and his bobbling broom. Shots kill a chasing Police officer and injure Rusty. With the operation spiralling out of control, STG are ordered to clean up their mess. Kimiora, armed with a high powered assault rifle, takes the law into his already blood-stained hands.

What if reconciliation could give history a new heart? In Te Hāhi Mihinare, Rev Dr Hirini Kaa begins with a Māori phrase, he ngākau hou (a new heart). For Kaa, when the gospel comes to Ngāti Porou through Piripi Taumata-a-kura, it reveals processes of debate and change. Tribes think creatively in the light of entirely new understandings they have derived from theological sources. Central to the Gospel is the sacrament of reconciliation. We often apply the gospel as individual acts of confession and reconciliation. Dr Kaa applies it communally. What might it take to reveal he ngākau hou (a new heart) amongst all who experience Aotearoa’s whakapapa of state violence? Such is the “what if” muru questions provoked by Muru.

Posted by steve at 08:27 PM

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