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Film Reviews

NZIFF Film Review: Tupaia's Endeavour (2019)

Clare Martin

Tupaia’s Endeavour received its world premiere at Roxy Cinema, Wellington on Saturday 25 July as part of the New Zealand International Film Festival 2020.

As the film opens, we are immediately drawn into the world of Tupaia. We hear echoes of flute (taonga puōro), the water drips from tropical leaves, we hear the birds chattering. And with a kind of intimacy and gentle care, New Zealanders Michel Tuffery and Kirk Torrance are being prepared for a Tahitian ceremony.  This scene has been unchanged for a thousand years, even if the people are different. And this gentle care creates the space and tone for a respectful and transparent telling of the story of Tupaia’s encounter with Aotearoa.

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From the beauty of this ritual, we step straight into a scene of tragedy and confrontation.  It is 8th of October 1769 when Lieutenant James Cook and his men arrive on the East Coast of Aotearoa. Crucially, travelling on the Endeavour was Tupaia, high priest and the most significant person in that first encounter. 

It is not an easy task to draw together these disparate historical threads with the modern world. Director and Producer Lala Rolls weaves this complexity together with an intuitive flow. This is not a simple tale, and a myriad of story-telling devices are needed to draw together the threads.  Along with the team she took on the journey of making the film, she has told this story with huge aroha. There is a seamlessness to the story-telling, moving in and out of yesterday and today, which makes this all the more relevant and current.

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Michel Tuffery and Kirk Torrance

Camera-work is personal as well as mystical, being present in the discovery process as well as wheeling the view upward into the starry darkness of a Pacific sky. Music by Stephen Gallagher and Riki Gooch is lucid and vibrant, adding depth and colour to our experience. Keep an ear out for a possible soundtrack from this film.

There is so much that astonishes in this film, from the revelation of the navigational charts to the realisation that we have been fed an incorrect history.  In a beautiful way, this is a chance to repair, restore, and reconnect to Aotearoa’s real stories. 


Lala Rolls, Olivier Roth (Tahiti co-Producer), Michel Tuffery

Standing upon solid feet of research and with the richness of teamwork, Rollsaroha for her subject creates a film worthy of an international festival. And with the fluid intuitive weaving of strands, we have a film rich in detail that breathes with real life. All of us in the Pacific should see this film and immerse ourselves in this important Endeavour.

NZIFF 2020: Watch Tupaia's Endeavour HERE

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Written By: Clare Martin Clare has performed as an opera, recital and oratorio artist in UK most notably the Queen Elizabeth Hall, South Bank, London. In NZ she has performed with NZ Opera and with the NZ Symphony Orchestra but more recently she has moved into a wider range of contemporary genres including jazz and even Leonard Cohen. Since 2008 Clare has been teaching from her own music studio working with professional and beginner singers. In 2017 she was a mentor on TVNZ’s The Naked Choir working with a cappella choirs and she currently coaches barbershop and a woman’s ensemble.