Issue date: 
Friday, 10 December 2021

Producer Desray Armstrong is this year’s recipient of Te Tumu Whakaata Taonga New Zealand Film Commission’s Te Aupounamu 
Māori Screen Excellence Award.  

Awarded by nominations from their peers, Te Aupounamu Māori Screen Excellence Award provides a $50,000 grant in recognition of the recipient’s significant contribution to the Māori screen industry. The grant is to be used to support the recipients’ professional development and projects. 

Desray Armstrong (Te Aitanga-a-Hauiti, Ngāti Porou) is an award-winning producer with 17 years’ production experience, beginning in 2004, making content for broadcast on the newly launched Māori Television Service. 

Her short films and web series have screened In Competition and won awards at multiple prestigious festivals around the world including Cannes, Berlin and SXSW.  Dustin Feneley’s bold art house debut Stray, premiered at Moscow in 2018 launching her feature film producing career. Her second feature, produced alongside Catherine Fitzgerald and Mike Minogue is James Ashcroft’s thriller Coming Home in the Dark, which premiered in the Midnight Madness section at Sundance 2021 and was released in cinemas across Aotearoa in August 2021.  She followed this with two films produced with Angela Littlejohn; Matthew Saville’s familial love story Juniper is in New Zealand cinemas now and Michelle Savill’s comedy drama Millie Lies Low recently premiered at Whānau Mārama New Zealand International Film Festival. 

Through her production company Sandy Lane Productions, she is active in creating pathways for more women and Māori to step into key creative roles and her film and television development slate has a strong indigenous focus, including several projects with Māori women at the helm. 

In support of the nomination, producer Chelsea Winstanley said, “Desray has always given everything, sometimes to her detriment, to ensure any director or writer has the opportunity to make their vision come to screen. Her commitment doesn’t just rest with above the line, anyone who has ever had the fortune of working with Desray in any crew position feels valued because that is the kind of producer she is. Our film industry is in safe hands because of this incredible wahine Māori armed with decades of knowledge, championing our stories.” 

Producer Catherine Fitzgerald added, “Desray has built a reputation as fair, utterly reliable, hugely respected and well loved by crew whatever role in production she takes. She gives back in much greater measure than she receives and works tirelessly to support the creativity of all she works with right across the industry. At the same time, she brings Te Ao Māori to films which on the surface appear not to be "Māori" whether that is in the hiring of cast and crew, or in ensuring Te Ao Māori seamlessly fits in a New Zealand story, or in the kaupapa of a project, ensuring appropriate tikanga for the safety of all.” 

In addition to the main award, Christina Asher and Guy Moana were recognised for their contributions to the sector and will each receive $25,000 grants. 

Christina Asher & Guy Moana

Christina Asher (Ngāti Tuwharetoa, Ngā Rauru, Te Atihaunui-a-Paparangi, Ngāti Pūkenga, Ngāti Rangiwewehi) is one of the most prolific Indigenous casting professionals in the world having launched careers for internationally successful actors and given generously to the Māori film community for over 20 years. Christina is a previous Board member of WIFT and Chair of Ngā Aho Whakaari, and was part of the Te Manu Aute collective of Māori film-makers that preceded Ngā Aho Whakaari in the 1980s.  She is a staunch supporter of emerging Māori screen talent. Christina directed her first documentary in 1993 as part of the first Indigenous International co-production television series From Spirit to Spirit; her most recent - What Are We Going To Do About Mum? - in 2016 for the Pakipumeka documentary series on Māori Television.

Guy Moana (Ngāti Porou, Te Whānau ā Takimoana, Te Whānau ā Hinepare, Ngāi Tane me Te Whānau ā Apanui, Ngāti Hine, Ngāti Wai) has made an outstanding contribution in art direction and production design to both New Zealand and international film and television for over 30 years. His early polystyrene work paved the way for the replication of whare, carvings and moko design, making it possible to create authentic environments for Māori period film within even the humblest of budgets. His craft is instantly recognisable in films such as, Mauri, Finders Keepers, Once Were Warriors, The Piano, Broken English, Greenstone, and Crooked Earth, Whale Rider, The Dead Lands, The Māori Merchant of Venice and more recently the Joint Indigenous Initiative Anthology Ngā Pouwhenua - We Are Still Here (in Post-Production) as well as a in number of international projects. 

Te Aupounamu Māori Screen Excellence Awards have been 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. Previous recipients of the Te Aupounamu Māori Screen Excellence Award are are production designer Rā Vincent, writer/director Michael Bennett, cinematographer Fred Renata, and the eight writers and directors behind anthology feature film Waru - Briar Grace-Smith, Casey Kaa, Ainsley Gardiner, Katie Wolfe, Renae Maihi, Chelsea Winstanley and PaulaWhetu-Jones, director Awanui Simich-Pene and writer Josephine Stewart-Te Whiu.  Previous recipients of special grants have been writer Kath Akuhata-Brown, Wairoa Film Festival director Leo Koziol, Awa Films director Julian Arahanga, and 1st AD Puti Puti rā Simich-Pene.


Last updated: 
Tuesday, 14 December 2021