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Whale Rider
Written and Directed by Kiki Caro
Based on the novel by Witi Ihimaera
Cast; Keisha Castle-Hughes, Rawiri Paratene, Vicky Haughton, Cliff Curtis, Rawinia Clarke, Tammy Davis, Grant Roa, Tahei Simpson

The story of a 11-year-old girl who lives in a Maori community, the Ngati Kanohi of Whangara

Whale Rider is a wonderful film with no stars, set in New Zealand with an all Maori cast and features the story of a 11 year old girl who wants to ride a whale like the legendary hero who brought her people there 1000 years ago. It is remarkable that it is getting a Canada and USA wide release. Try pitching that idea to some producer in Hollywood at a time when all they can make is sequel after sequel and badly at that.

Whale Rider is a total delight. It tells the story of a young girl Pai (the delightful Keisha Castle-Hughes) who is devoted to her grandfather (Rawiri Paratene) yet he blatantly (and traditionally) prefers boys to girls. Pai is a disappointment to him because her mother died in childbirth and took with her the twin-son, Pai 's brother. With the Grandfather’s own eldest son deserting them (and leaving his baby daughter behind) the second son a disappointment, he begins a search amongst the local kids for a new chief to bring the local community together and lead them. He tells her of how they came to this country 1000 years ago on the back of a whale from Hawaii and the next leader must be a strong enough to tame that whale.

To this end he starts a school to train all the boys as he waits for the right one to emerge. Pai is upset by this betrayal. Not only won’t he consider her for ‘man’s business’ but also denies her the same training. She secretly watches and learns however and is determined to be as good as the boys and try to win her Grandfather’s attention back. Unfortunately everything she does only seems to thwart her Grandfather’s best intentions and he thinks she is making the gods angry at him, making him fail. She is supported in her endeavers though by her Grandmother and her elder brother who trains her in traditonal fighting.

This is a mainly local acting cast (save Cliff Curtis who has appeared in several Hollywood movies lately) and are natural and at ease in this setting. The tale is told with warmth and tenderness. It is often hilarious and just as often brings a tear to the eye as Pia is constantly rejected by the stubborn old man.

Pai played by Keisha Castle-Hughes is a pleasure to watch and you feel much empathy for her.

When, in the end, to prove herself she sings to the whales, tragically they hear her. They beach themselves outside the village and her Grandfather blames her for bringing this curse upon them. Finally Pai realises she must save the whales to win her Grandfather’s love, even if it means the end of her life.
The film is a gem with fine performances and is a pefect anti-dote to the special effects laden summer fare of Hulk and others. Take the kids, more importantly take the girls, they’ll be inspired.

Locally from June 20th at the Fifth Avenue Cinema Vancouver and in Toronto, San Francisco, New York, Boston.

© Sam North June 2003

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