By Ryan Keating-Lambert
Poi E is a charming and truly inspirational documentary about a song that transformed not just the Maori community, but the entire country of New Zealand. However, rather than presenting a run-of-the-mill biographical history of the song, the film focuses on the spirit of the people behind it.
Directed by Te Arepa Kahi (Mt Zion), Poi E follows the song from its origins with the Maori R’n’B and soul artist Dalvanius Prime, linguist Ngoi Pewhairangi, and the Patea Maori Club, and takes a playful look at track’s viral influence across the country, and even the world.
The film, which opened the New Zealand International Film Festival last year, is first and foremost a feel-good documentary that promotes the wonderful eccentricity and limitless talent of Dalvanius and his influence on the Maori community, which he eventually brought back from the ashes through his signature song and dance.
Rather than a straight-forward account of the man’s life and the music that accompanied it, the documentary weaves seamlessly through a number of lovable interviews with family, friends, artists, and famous Kiwi personalities like director Taika Waititi (Hunt for the Wilderpeople).
Thrown into the mix is also some wonderful rare and retro footage of the Maori club’s tribal dance routines and recording sessions. There’s even some footage from the New Zealand music awards in the 1980s which will cause many to well up with nostalgia.
Poi E is essential viewing for those from New Zealand, but also the rest of the world. It’s a motivating piece that shows the raw strength and ambition of the indigenous community, that which without, might still be hidden today. It shows how far we’ve come, but also how far we’ve got to go.
The film’s premiere in Kino Lucerna also saw a spectacular performance by the Maori Whakaari Rotorua traditional song and dance group. The performance and screening has been one of the highlights of the Aussie and Kiwi Film Fest so far.