Top positive review
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"...I come from a long line of chiefs."
on May 6, 2004
In 2002, Niki Caro directed and co-wrote the screenplay for the endearing New Zealand film "Whale Rider", which was based upon novel of the same name written by Witi Ihimaera and published in New Zealand in 1987. (In Maori, the title is "Te Kaieke Tohora".) The story is about a young Maori girl named Paikea 'Pai' Apirana (Keisha Castle-Hughes), who is a direct descendent of the Maori chief Paikea who arrived at Whangara, New Zealand on the back of a whale many generations ago. From that time forward, his first-born male descendents were each named after him and became chiefs; that is, until Paikea Apirana's parents gave birth to twins, a boy and a girl, as their first-born children. Sadly, the twin's mother died during childbirth, as did the boy; but the girl survived and was named Paikea. Disgraced, her father, Porourangi (Cliff Curtis), leaves for Europe, so Pai's grandparents raise her instead. Her grandfather, Koro Apirana (Rawiri Paratene), views Pai as a bad omen for the tribe and embarks on finding a Maori boy worthy of becoming the next chief since he can't accept the possibility of a girl becoming chief. However, Pai's grandmother, Nanny Flowers (Vicky Haughton), loves Pai very much and encourages her to learn the ways of a chief in spite of Koro's objections.
"Whale Rider" was first released at the Toronto Film Festival in September, 2002, where it won the "People's Choice Award". As it was shown at various independent film festivals that followed, including the 2003 Sundance Film Festival, it continued to win awards and was finally released for general cinema in May, 2003 in Australia and in the U.S. one month later. Shortly thereafter, the Keisha Castle-Hughes received serious attention from film critics. She was rewarded for her performance in "Whale Rider" with an Oscar nomination for Best Actress. Though she did not win the Oscar, she will hopefully continue to develop her acting abilities and continue to be a superb member of her generation of actors and actresses.
For its superb acting, wonderful story and incredible cinematography, I rate "Whale Rider" with a resounding 5 out of 5 stars. Other memorable characters in the film include Uncle Rawiri (Grant Roa), Hemi (Mana Taumaunu) and Shilo (Rachel House). Memorable scenes include Pai trying to clandestinely learn from Koro, Koro taking pupils out on a canoe, Pai finding the necklace, Pai reciting her history at school and the whales. I highly recommend this film to everyone.