Ainsley Gardiner and Briar Grace-Smith.

Māori filmmakers Ainsley Gardiner and Briar Grace-Smith have won the 2019 Sundance Institute Merata Mita Fellowship, selected after a global call for applicants.

Each will receive cash grants and a year-long program of support from the Sundance Institute including mentorships and attending the Sundance Film Festival.

Shortly after the fellowships were announced, A Wrinkle in Time director Ava DuVernay’s distribution company Array acquired US rights to Merata: How Mum Decolonised the Screen, a documentary feature directed by Mita’s youngest son Heperi Mita, which had its international premiere at Sundance and will next screen in the NATIVe special presentation section of the Berlinale.

Now in its fourth year, the Merata Mita Fellowship is named in honour of pioneering Māori filmmaker Merata Mita, who died suddenly in 2010. The first and only Māori woman to write and direct a feature film, 1988’s Mauri, she was adviser and artistic director of the Sundance Institute Native Lab from 2000 to 2009.

“Through his film, director Heperi Mita introduces a new generation to an artist and cultural leader that everyone should know,” said Array Releasing VP Tilane Jones. “We are honoured to distribute this beautiful film about the legacy, dignity and talent of the great filmmaker, mother and icon Merata Mita.”

As a producer Gardiner’s credits include the short films Tama Tū and Two Cars, One Night and the features Boy, Eagle vs Shark, The Breaker Upperers and She Shears. As a writer/director her work includes the shorts Mokopuna and Mihi, the latter one of eight that make up the feature film Waru.

Grace-Smith is a filmmaker and writer with credits spanning stage plays, fiction, television scripts and screenplays including The Strength of Water which was developed in the Sundance Institute’s Screenwriters’ lab.

She wrote and directed Charm, the opening vignette in Waru. In 2017 she was awarded the NZFC’s Ramai Hayward Directors’ Scholarship for wahine Māori. Ainsley and Briar are collaborating on a new feature project.

“It’s such an honour to have the Sundance Institute recognise the inspiring work of Ainsley and Briar with the Merata Mita Fellowship,” said New Zealand Film Commission CEO Annabelle Sheehan.

“Ainsley and Briar are representative of the ever-increasing wave of Māori talent creating screen stories. Merata Mita’s legacy for all First Nations filmmakers is an important touchstone for the NZFC and we are committed to supporting films led by Māori creatives and extremely proud to support the Fellowship.”

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