Pania Tepaiho-Marsh (Photo: Loading Docs)

It would take more than pregnancy or a pandemic to stop me telling Pania’s story, Wahine Warrior

Director Emma Calveley tells the story behind her new Loading Docs short documentary film Wahine Warrior.

Pania Tepaiho-Marsh (Ngāti Kahungunu ki Wairoa) began hunting for her own mental health. Now she teaches other women to hunt free of charge, giving them skills to feed their children.

I discovered Pania through her viral Facebook videos encouraging women to join her hunting sisterhood. Her humour, emotional intelligence and drive were apparent. My director nature kicked in – I had to meet this woman and share her work with the world. Short documentary initiative Loading Docs agreed with me, selecting our project for their 2020 Revolution collection of short documentaries.

Within weeks of starting this passion project I took a pregnancy test. It was positive. I had to break the news to my good friend and producer, Nix Jaques, and assure her the timeline was still entirely doable. I’d stay fit. We’d film in my second trimester. Two days of hiking, hunting and filming would be a breeze. We were all capable wāhine. We knew we could edit and promote the work well before the mid-July due date.

We weren’t prepared for a global pandemic to bring our industry to a halt. Just like the rest of Aotearoa, our shoot schedule went into lockdown. By the time we were allowed to film, I was 33 weeks pregnant and worried I wouldn’t be able to haul my growing puku on a hunting trek, let alone film it. The aim as a documentarian is to never get in the way of the story. You try to be like stage crew, there to make it happen, but never holding the story back or drawing attention to yourself.

Key funders – generous friends, family and local businesses – donated money to bring the project to life. We borrowed equipment from industry friends and called on all the favours we could. With just 50 dollars to spare and two days to make sure we got the story, we travelled to Tokomaru, a small town 20 minutes south of Palmerston North. It’s nestled under the Tararua ranges, a stones throw from the Manawatū river. Papatūānuku was indeed going to be a striking presence.

Our intrepid weekend of hunting had finally begun. There was no money in the kite for excess bags, so we restricted ourselves to minimal clothing. I packed a couple of changes and wore my one pair of lucky hiking boots that had belonged to my late mother-in-law.

With cameras rolling, newbie hunters Sadé and Tiff were amazing and all was going well. Pania planned the hunt through the Pohainga Valley. Flat, easy terrain for beginners. We were only a few metres in when we encountered an awa – “Your feet are going to be wet all day,” Pania said. Sure enough, they were, but I was carrying a tripod and a baby. I was pretty warm.

Two hours in, my left lucky hiking boot began to fall apart. Luckily Pania’s ex-military husband and expert hunter, Haaka, strung it together with rope. It worked a treat, like number 8 wire. Shoe fixed, I managed to mostly keep up with the hunters, before my right boot completely fell apart. Pania tried to pull it together with a cable tie. With only a few hours of light remaining, and no kill, I began to worry. Was I impeding the hunt, and the story?

Then a group of goats – an introduced pest in our ngahere – came through. The hunters took off after them. Half-jogging, half-waddling, carrying a camera tripod, the boot and all the challenges no longer mattered. One of our rookies, Tiff, shot one! In that moment, she transformed from a city-slick Instagram beauty to a strong bush-savvy wahine, able to carry a 30kg goat out of the bush on her back.

We left the old boots in Palmy and travelled home with a documentary filmed, bringing new meaning to “barefoot and pregnant”.

As Auckland moves into our second lockdown, and our earth draws a breath, I hold my newborn daughter. Our goal was to a powerful short for a local and international audience. Despite all the obstacles, Pania’s story prevailed. Ngā mihi nui, Pania.

Wahine Warrior is part of the Loading Docs 2020 collection and can be viewed online via thespinoff.co.nz or loadingdocs.net



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