David Whittet Films Blog
Independent New Zealand Film Production

The Initial Concept - A Māori Romeo and Juliet

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This opening blog looks at the genesis of the project, from that initial flash of inspiration, through numerous revisions and re-writes to the draft treatment and ultimately the final draft of the screenplay.

I have not made a major film for almost nineteen years and decided that my new film would have a distinctively New Zealand flavour. I have been looking for a subject with a background of gang rivalry, a story of love set against a rough and hostile background. My defining moment came when my son Mark told me about a dream he had with two star-crossed Māori lovers, coming from rival enemy tribes. Here was my subject - a Māori take on Romeo & Juliet.

This concept initially found favour whilst looking for backing for the new film. However there was considerably more interest in the idea than solid investment! Whilst it was obviously a disappointment not to secure significant funding, it did enable me to make a truly independent film and meant I was free to develop my own story.

I am intent on making a layered story which will work on many different levels. Perhaps most important of all, I am determined that Amiri & Aroha will be a drama with interesting and engaging characters. I also want to move away from the high tragedy of Romeo and Juliet and initially considered a Māori version of Lorna Doone. I have always loved R D Blackmore’s classic story and it seemed much more readily adaptable to a Māori setting, with a background of tribal rivalry. My character Hunapo was original inspired by Carver Doone, but as the story developed he moved away from this irredeemable villain. The redemption of Hunapo became a key element of the story, Hunapo’s journey from light to darkness contrasting sharply with Amiri’s journey from light to darkness.

The story has all the elements for compelling drama, love, betrayal, family vendettas, revenge... But one element is still missing - corruption. Amiri will be a hot shot Māori business from Auckland who comes to Rere with his own agenda, to turn the Rere falls into a lucrative mineral water bottling factory. Aroha will be charmed by Amiri and believe that he is the one to take her away from the gang and give her a new life. To her peril, Aroha becomes unwittingly caught up in Amiri’s shady business dealings.