For my final film I had the pleasure to interview screen-write Riwia McKenzie Brown, focusing in on on one of the key concerns of the studio – the struggles of an Indigenous woman in the film industry. It’s already a struggle for women to break through the film industry, as we know, but as a Maori woman? Even harder. This was probably one of my biggest highlights across the entirety of my Media studies at RMIT, given I’m a Maori woman trying to make it in the industry, myself. For this reason, I hope that my final film engaged the audience in her story and helped them understand both hers, and ours as an entire race’s, struggles along the way – this being the sheer racism that was presented towards the Maori culture and it’s people in the time she was cutting through in the film industry. Brown made her way in the 70’s and 80’s and came from a mother who spoke Maori as her first language, and a father who was of European descent, with two very creative brothers – Apirana Taylor (Poet/Novelist/Performer/Storyteller/Musician/Painter) & Rangimoana Taylor (Actor/Theatre Director/Storyteller). Her mother was strapped in school for speaking her native tongue, and was insistent her children were to grow up in a Pakeha (Caucasian) world. Her father, however, was on the reverse side of the coin and wished for their children to take back all of the things that were stripped from his wife during the time of colonisation – inclusive of her native tongue & performance. Brown and her brothers worked for 50 years, starting groups such as Toi Whakaari: Young Maori’s in Performance, and making successful careers out of their creativity, in attempts to do so – and now, Brown hopes through this short film, she can inspire the next generation of Maori creatives to continue the hard work.

The entire time I was creating my film, I imagined what it could be, should there be no time constraints. With 40 whole minutes worth of zoom interview content to work with, there were so many amazing things that Brown had to say, and I couldn’t stop thinking about how I wished to include more – as she had me hanging on the edge of my own seat, even. I also discussed with Brown, the use of archival footage, however, due to the fact that she made her career in the film industry so long ago, none of it was digitalised, and was all kept in correct storage in Wellington (Brown currently resides in the Bay of Plenty); meaning that we weren’t able to use any archival footage for the final film. Although I love the workaround I found, being the animation, if I could rework the piece with no constraints here, the final piece would include archival footage to create a more dynamic film.

The first video I chose to reflect on from my studio is McKenzie Curtis’ poetic film, The Art of Loving. Curtis chose to interview Naarm (Melbourne) based writer and director, Jessica Barclay Lawton. Lawton describes her directorial style on her LinkedIn page as “raw and intimate, capturing nuanced and genuine moments of characters and subjects as they unpack the complex relationship between self and society”. I’m presuming that for this reason, Curtis has chosen an editing style that compliments her style, in order to create a flow in aesthetics across the entirety of the film. Lawton discusses thing need to connect with and love yourself, as well as connect with and love the things around you, and how to learn to do this through media making. This was laid over shots of Lawton, herself’s, work. All of these ideas being something we touched on at some point in the studio. This, for me, gave off such a strong emotional feeling, that I felt a sense of calm while also being moved. Not only do I love her choice in the poetic style of editing, but I love all the things her interviewee had to say.

The second film I chose to reflect on from my studio was Jasmine Nguyen’s short film on Naarm (Melbourne) based producer and filmmaker, Diana Fisk, Diana Fisk: Making an Impact. I love Nguyen’s stylistic choices here. I think the way she chose to include animation, texts and backgrounds to make a zoom chat feel like a dynamic film, was incredible. What’s most impressive, however, are the things that Fisk had to say. She highlighted the need to create an impact with your creative works, which is something we discussed in the studio a lot… How to create meaning, and how to ensure you get this meaning across to the audience.

The studio given to me to reflect on was Unravelling the Real. From what I can see, I understand that the studio encourages its students to explore non-fiction events and stories through a range of creative techniques, personal expression, as well as questioning what documentary can be, and discussing manifestos. The students final film I chose to explore Nadia Harari’s Rebel. Rebel explores the what it is like to be a climate activist, through exploring various interviews with youth who are involved in Extinction Rebellion Youth (XRY), and highlighting the mental toll that activism can take, as well exploring the organising of demonstrations and what the motivation behind these individuals are. Harari uses experimental documentary techniques, through the use of diegetic sounds, voice over from the interviews paired with text to screen of what they are saying matched with 16mm shots of the youth & nature. Not only does this film meet the criteria of the studio that is outlined above, it is also just a rather beautiful final film. The aesthetics of this experimental film are marvellous, and left me feeling both inspired & moved. 




The Woman Behind the Words: Getting to Know Riwia McKenzie Brown


Unfortunately, to this day, there exists an unfair balance between males and females within the film industry. “While women represent just over 50 per cent of the population, are well represented in higher education and makeup 46 per cent of the workforce, they are still under-represented in senior levels of management across most industries in Australia… Looking at women’s involvement in the Australian production industry overall, the picture is also discouraging. According to the latest census, in 2011 women comprised 36 per cent of people employed in the film and video production sector and 29 per cent in the post-production sector (Australia, S., 2018).” For this reason, it’s of particular importance to encourage women of all ages to enter the film industry, should they feel the ambition to do so.


I had the opportunity to interview screenplay writer, Riwia McKenzie Brown. Brown has worked in the film industry for an approximate 30 years, and was responsible for the award-winning film adaption of Alan Duff’s novel, Once Were Warriors, that was released in 1994 – which highlights the story, and unfortunately tragic reality for many women, of domestic violence in a family home. When it comes to discussing the struggles of women in the industry, there is no woman, or film, more appropriate for the job than Brown & her and Lee Tamahori’s screen adaption of Once Were Warriors.


Brown and I spoke on a Zoom call for about 40 minutes in total, while I picked her brain on the struggles of making it in the industry as an Indigenous woman. This topic, being particularly important to me, as an Indigenous woman, who is attempting to pursue a career in the film industry myself. Brown was honest about it, which was both enlightening and somewhat scary at the same time. We discussed her journey to where she is today, her family life, her work she has done in the time, and all of the repercussions that came with the work she achieved.


While Brown noted there was probably some sexism in the industry at the time, she hadn’t noticed, due to the overwhelming amount of racism directed towards the Maori people at the time. There was a bigger issue to be tackled for Brown, and she felt it was of utmost importance to focus on this. Luckily for her, she had the support of her loving, creative, family to help get her through it all. Brown told me of her brothers, who were both incredibly creative, talented people. One of her brothers, Rangimoana Taylor, who is an actor, theatre director and storyteller with over 35 years in the industry, started the group Toi Whakaari, which is young Maori in performance & was only the second ever Maori person to go to drama school in New Zealand. Her other brother, Apirana Taylor, is a poet, novelist, performer, storyteller, musician and painter. Brown was honest in crediting both these men, as well as her parents, for nurturing her creative talents and encouraging her to pursue them. Brown discussed her love for being involved with creative people, who were Maori aswell, and the process of taking back what was taken from them during the process of colonialization – inclusive of their native tongue, since her mother came from an era in New Zealand’s colonised issues such as the Maori being banned from speaking in Maori, and being caned in school by teachers, should they do so. This was something that hit incredibly close to home, as this same thing happened to my grandparents when they were young. This sad truth, was something we were able to reflect on together, and resulted in the pair of us sharing a rather special connection. Brown expressed that now, she loves nothing more than to do the same thing in return to the next generations to come, and help to guide and nurture young Maori creatives, so they can continue the process of taking back our culture through the arts – that they, among many others, started to do about 50 years ago.


It seems it’s a bittersweet process, making a film that highlights the dark realities that some people face. Brown told me of the kind of repercussions she faced, taking on the role of the writing the screen adaption of Once Were Warriors, and they weren’t positive to begin with. Many elders among the Maori community found the story to be a blight on the Maori race, or an airing of the dirty laundry of sorts – with the storyline depicting alcoholism, domestic violence, sexual assault, gangster life and violence. Brown explained that at the time, the media already painted the entire Maori community as all of these negative things, that were outlined in the film. So, for the elders in the Maori community, that felt shame and sadness about these portrayals already, they truly thought that the world would see the film & have the story reiterate and confirm all of these ideas that they had about the Maori to be true. Brown spoke of the press release and the premiere of the film, which heightened these fears. The press release was complete silence, with no questions or applause for both herself and the director of the film, Lee Tamahori, they all just left moments after the ending credits began to roll. It was the same at the premiere, which showed over five screens, and over 1000 people in attendance, in Auckland, New Zealand. Brown stated she went to the bathroom, after the theatre fell to total silence again, and found hoards of women just crying their eyes out. Brown and Tamahori were shocked. Much to both Brown and Tamahori’s surprise, the reviews and ratings they had was quiet the opposite of what they were expecting. They found that the world saw the story, for the story it was, and not as an attack on the Maori people. Not only this, but they found that there was a lot of pride felt among the youth in the Maori community – with a resurgence among them, in things like drama school, due to the outstanding performances of the Maori cast in both Once Were Warriors (1994), but other Maori films that were released around the same time, such as Niki Caro’s 2002 film Whale Rider. Brown discussed the importance of being able to see these images on screen, to young, impressionable, Maori, who may not have felt there was hope for them to be a creative in the same colonised world that we are raised in. Brown’s words were so inspiring, and emotional, and we shared many laughs and tears together during the weeks leading up to the recording of the interview; which continued post recording. I feel lucky to be able to have such an honest and real discussion with Brown about these subjects, and to be able to stay in contact with her via email and facetime. I feel a sense that she may become a strong ally in the years to come, as I continue my journey as a young, Maori, creative.


While the interview itself was rich in content, the real struggle came during the editing process. Brown gave me an incredible amount of footage to work with, despite a lot of it being just interview content. While she was happy to handover personal footage of both herself, and the film, she mentioned that it was all from the pre-digital era, and was being stored in the appropriate storage to keep the physical film in-tact in Wellington – which is not where she currently resides. As well as this, I was limited to the footage from Zoom as Brown resides in the Bay of Plenty in New Zealand, and I am here in Melbourne, Australia. Because of this, I had to find a workaround to make the film feel and look more dynamic. I began the editing process by cutting down the footage of Brown from our chat, into a short-form film length, from the 40 minutes it was sitting at. I was then able to export the audio from my Adobe Premiere Pro timeline into an Adobe Audition one, so I could take the audio and use it separately from the whole interview. Being inspired by the likes of Mac Miller with his post-humorous music video of his song Good News, which utilised animated versions of the artist to fill the music video as he unfortunately passed – I made the executive decision to work with animation instead your traditional b-roll cuts. I went with the paid program called VideoScribe, which had a lot of images to work with and allowed me to upload other images into it so long as I transferred them to VSG or GIF files. Most was easy to find in the gallery, but there were some niche things that I had to either draw up myself or outsource from the programme… These were mostly the things to do with the Maori culture. I used the audio that I separated from the rest of the film in this application, and created a majority of the amination in there. After animating some pieces of the film in this program, I was then able to export it and lay it over the interview footage in my Premiere Pro timeline. The only thing that I couldn’t find animated, was an image of Brown herself – which meant that I had to do this one by hand. I used an application on my iPad called Procreate, with my Apple Pencil, and drew her up myself. Procreate allows you to export a time-lapse of this process, which I utilised at the beginning of the film. I then used a free trial of AudioNetwork, which allowed me to download some paid music for free. Once I had laid the music in, I was able to add subtitles where needed to translate anything in Maori to English for the English-speaking audience, and add credits in the end that would credit any programmes and music I used, as well as thanking Brown for her time and efforts.


If I could create this piece of work again, the only thing I’d do differently is try work with Brown to collect those said pieces of archival footage and have them transferred over to the digital so I would be able to utilise it. I would also love to be able to make a full-length version and use all of the wonderful things she said. I feel like there was so much more that I could have used if there were no time limits.


All in all, I am happy with the final result, however – and couldn’t thank Brown enough for her efforts in helping me produce a wonderful short film, with providing me with a rather beautiful and touching story to be told and shown to the world.


  • Australia, S., 2018. Gender matters: women in the Australian screen industry. 2015.