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.

Latest

Why The Hustle has no sting
106053 2019-05-22 00:00:00Z Movies

Why The Hustle has no sting

by James Robins

A gender-swapping redo of a con-man comedy doesn't make good on its promise.

Read more
John Campbell sits down for Breakfast, with nothing to eat
105720 2019-05-22 00:00:00Z Television

John Campbell sits down for Breakfast, with nothin…

by Diana Wichtel

John Campbell on TVNZ’s Breakfast. There was a time when the idea would have seemed preposterous.

Read more
Conservatives say they’re happier, but liberals act happier. Here's why
105463 2019-05-22 00:00:00Z Psychology

Conservatives say they’re happier, but liberals ac…

by Marc Wilson

Much of the work on happiness is based on surveys, but what happens if we examine what people actually do?

Read more
Fresh tips in suspected cold case murder of Auckland teen
106082 2019-05-21 00:00:00Z Crime

Fresh tips in suspected cold case murder of Auckla…

by Donna Chisholm

Police are following up several new tips in the suspected cold case murder of Auckland teen Joanne “Joe” Chatfield.

Read more
Families witness as Pike River mine re-entry attempt begins
106112 2019-05-21 00:00:00Z Social issues

Families witness as Pike River mine re-entry attem…

by RNZ

The Pike River re-entry team steps through the double airlock doors today, watched by families of the 29 men who died in the 2010 tragedy.

Read more
How the Republican Party is effectively placing Donald Trump above the law
106064 2019-05-21 00:00:00Z World

How the Republican Party is effectively placing Do…

by Paul Thomas

The Republicans' strategy of not co-operating with Congress is undermining the system of checks and balances enshrined in the US Constitution.

Read more
NZ Listener and North & South win at NZ's top media awards
106058 2019-05-20 00:00:00Z Innovation

NZ Listener and North & South win at NZ's top medi…

by Noted

New Zealand's leading current affairs magazines pick up Voyager Media Awards.

Read more
Dancing with the Stars is a parable for democracy in the age of Trump
106060 2019-05-20 00:00:00Z Television

Dancing with the Stars is a parable for democracy…

by Diana Wichtel

The people have spoken on the hit TV dance-off and we deserve everything we get.

Read more