14 Jul 2015

Maori culture learned through art - US film maker

8:49 pm on 14 July 2015

An American documentary film maker in New Zealand on a Fulbright Scholarship says it's possible to learn a lot about Māori culture through artistic expression.

Te Kapa Haka o Te Whanau-ā-Apanui

Te Kapa Haka o Te Whanau-ā-Apanui Photo: Te Matatini

Ryan Metzler, from Pennsylvania, is completing a Master of Arts degree in film and media studies at Otago University.

He's been travelling around Aotearoa recording interviews and performances by Māori musicians, playwrights and authors, and mixing those with archival footage for his film.

Mr Metzler says his degree hypothesis is based on the argument that artistic performance can be more beneficial to learning because just as much can be learned through fiction as via an observational-based documentary film.

"I got the idea when I worked for a Native American theatre company and I was amazed by how much more I learned about Native American heritage, history and culture through fictional plays and performances," he said.

Mr Metzler said he wanted to make a film that relayed that artistic expression into a documentary format.

"The film pretty much intertwines these old archival clips with artistic performance and expression, so I guess I can argue ultimately that you can learn more about culture through artistic expression."

He said it would be hard to make a similar film in the United States.

"There's still a bit of a taboo with discussing Native American relations with the mainstream public."

Mr Metzler has been in Aotearoa before and said he had noticed that the general attitude towards Māori affairs and Māori language was better here than in the US.

"There is a more of a conscious effort to keep Māori in the public eye."

He said that attitude generally doesn't exist in the United States.

Mr Metzler said he had been well-received by Māori artists and performers around the country and hoped his documentary would eventually be seen by a wide audience.

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