Whale Rider producer & novelist reteam for Medicine Woman

March 22 2012

Taken from Screen Daily, by Sandy George.

Cameras roll Monday in New Zealand on Medicine Woman, from Mexican director Dana Rotberg (Otilia Rauda, Angel del Fuego, Intimacy), who adapted the script from a novella by Witi Ihimaera, whose book Whale Rider spawned a worldwide breakout hit.

New Zealand's annual film output is very small but Medicine Woman is one of four films funded by the New Zealand Film Commission that are either in production or about to begin filming. The others are The Weight of Elephants, an unofficial co-production with Denmark, the family-oriented drama Mt. Zion, directed by Tearepa Kahi and starring Temuera Morrison and Stan Walker, and Wrap Films Australia's second film Shopping.

A sales company is not yet attached to Medicine Woman, which is from Auckland-based South Pacific Pictures (SPP), one of the production companies behind Whale Rider. SPP chief executive and Whale Rider's John Barnett, is producing the new film with Chris Hampson.

The connections between Medicine Woman and Whale Rider don't end there: Rotberg booked two one-way tickets to New Zealand for her and her daughter a day after first seeing Whale Rider at a local cinema close to where she was living in southern California.

The cast includes Antonia Prebble, Rachel House and singer/songwriter Whirimako Black, who plays Paraiti, a medicine woman who is asked to hide a secret in order to protect someone's status in society.

The story was inspired by Ihimaera's visit to a traditional Maori healer when conventional medicine failed to cure him when he was a young boy, according to SPP spokeswoman Tamar Munch, and also by how Indian-born Hollywood actress Merle Oberon disguised her ethnic origins.

NZ On Air is providing funding and filming will take place over six weeks in Te Urewera, a region on the North Island, and Auckland.

Rotberg's Otilia Ruada won the NHK Award at Sundance in 2000 and Angel del Fuego opened Directors' Fortnight at Cannes in 1992. Medicine Woman is her first NZ film.

Meanwhile, writer/director Daniel Joseph Borgman's The Weight of Elephants, an adaptation of Australian author Sonya Harnett's novel Of A Boy, went into production on March 7. A nine-year-old boy, anxious because of the disappearance of three children from his small town, is the focus of the story.

The New Zealand born Borgman has made the most of his short films in Denmark with producer Katja Adomeit, who is producing The Weight of Elephants for Zentropa alongside New Zealand producer Leanna Saunders. Borgman's shorts have been popular at Cannes.

Also, New Zealand co-directors Mark Albiston and Louis Sutherland start filming Shopping in April. The story, a 16-year-old must choose between his family or a family of shoplifters.

Producer Robin Scholes confirmed that she is currently financing The Patriarch, adapted from Ihimaera's novel Bulibasha: King of the Gypsies. John Collee is writing and Lee Tamahori, with whom Scholes worked on Once Were Warriors, will direct.

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