Artificial Intelligence (AI) and innovative animation are key components of an extraordinary film project that revolves around influential 18th-century Māori chiefs, settlers, and Pākehā colonists, bringing the history of Tauranga Moana to life.
The project, called Happy Hikoi, is a ten-part mini-series currently in development by Te Tuinga Support Services Trust. The creators are optimistic that this futuristic technology will revolutionize traditional storytelling methods for Māori and provide an avenue for tribes to illuminate their ancestral journeys.
Tommy Wilson, the executive director of the Trust, expressed his excitement about chronicling Tauranga’s early days in a contemporary format that holds infinite potential for narrating indigenous stories not only from Aotearoa but also from around the world. While the primary focus is on capturing historical events and figures, the project aims to engage the younger generation and visitors to the region.
Currently, the team is producing ten two-minute film clips that have the potential to be expanded into half-hour segments, delving deeper into the captivating historical events and the remarkable individuals associated with them.
Wilson acknowledged the tragedies and conflicts that marred Tauranga’s history, including the Māori Land Wars and the Battle of Gate Pā, emphasizing that these events must never be forgotten. While the narratives in the film are intended to be informative and factual, they will lean toward the positive aspects to foster engagement with the kaupapa, the underlying principles and values.
“We want them to be engaging and not boring,” Wilson emphasized.
The stories covered in the project span a wide range of historical figures, such as Hēni Te Kiri Karamū, Taiaho Hōri Ngātai, Hēnare Wiremu Taratoa, the epic journey of the canoes like Tākitimu, the significance of Matariki, the contributions of missionary Alfred Nesbit Brown, and the story of navy commander Captain John Fane Charles Hamilton, who commanded a colonial regiment and lost his life in the Battle of Gate Pā.
Wilson, a seasoned author with an impressive collection of 33 books, is deeply passionate about the films and the opportunities they present. “I’ve been a storyteller for a long time. The format is still taking shape in our minds and gradually manifesting itself. The process is very organic,” he explained.
From the project’s inception, Wilson has been collaborating closely with local Māori historian Reon Tuanau to ensure that the voice of tanga te whenua, the essence of the land, is accurately captured.
German film director Robert Morgenstern, who is based in Tauranga and boasts 20 years of experience, including previous work with the BBC on various documentaries, expressed his awe at how AI technology is rapidly transforming the film industry. Morgenstern highlighted how this technology allows for swift work and the exploration of creative angles that were previously only possible with large Hollywood budgets. However, he also acknowledged the potential impact on job opportunities within the creative industry.
He marveled at the Happy Hikoi project and regarded it as an incredible endeavor to be a part of. Morgenstern believes that the project can offer a refreshingly novel perspective on local history, emphasizing that it doesn’t always have to be a somber blame game. Instead, it provides an opportunity to explore the perspectives of strong historical characters, their visions for the future, and what they aspired to achieve.