Te Tumu Whakaata Taonga New Zealand Film Commission is pleased to announce writer/director Michael Bennett is this year’s recipient of Te Aupounamu Māori Screen Excellence award grant of $50,000 to support his professional development and projects.
With a career in film and television that has spanned more than twenty years, Bennett’s work has been recognised with numerous awards and accolades including the 2019 New Zealand Film and Television Awards for Best Drama Director and Best Drama Feature for In Dark Places; and a 2010 New Zealand Scriptwriting Award for feature film Matariki. His short and feature films have screened at numerous international film festivals including Cannes, Toronto and Berlin.
Bennett’s body of work demonstrates a commitment to telling stories about Māori characters and issues important to Māori communities.
“I feel blessed that I am able to tell stories that are important and need telling,” said Bennett, accepting the award in a video filmed at his home. “I am truly humbled by the recognition of my work with this award.”
Since 2011 much of Bennett’s work as a writer and a director has focused on the wrongful conviction of convicted murderer Teina Pora, including In Dark Places and documentary The Confessions of Prisoner T, adaptations of his award-winning non-fiction books. In addition to his impressive body of work as a writer and director, Bennett has given back to the industry through teaching and mentoring, encouraging new generations of Māori to tell their own stories on screen. He has headed the screenwriting faculty at the South Seas Film School for the last five years and has worked with industry organisations such as Script to Screen, Ngā Aho Whakaari, Show Me Shorts, Victoria University’s Institute of Modern Letters and the Auckland Writers Festival.
Bennett has a number of feature films and television series in development and acknowledges that Te Aupounamu – Māori Screen Excellence award will be invaluable to the realisation of this work.
“The intention was to announce the recipient of this award at Māoriland Film Festival, but due to COVID-19 restrictions for the industry, Michael was advised of the award by phone at the end of March,” said NZFC Pou Whakahaere, Karen Waaka-Tibble, “Michael’s nomination was well supported by extensive letters of endorsement and he is extremely humbled by the award and support he received to be considered.”
Te Aupounamu is the carved figure which sits on the tauihu (prow) of the canoe and represents the figure cutting through waves as a waka travels the ocean. The recipients of these awards represent this spirit in their journeys through the screen industry.
Te Aupounamu Māori Screen Excellence Awards are given annually since 2018 to recognise members of the Māori screen community who have displayed a high-level contribution or achievement as recognised by peers. Last year’s recipient was cinematographer Fred Renata with additional awards given to Kath Akuhata-Brown and Leo Koziol.
The 2020 panel was held on 20th February with representatives from Ngā Aho Whakaari, the NZFC’s Pou Whakahaere and Head of Talent Development with the final decision made by the NZFC’s CEO, Annabelle Sheehan.