Built in the 1970s using recycled wood and other salvaged materials, Tapu Te Ranga was one of Pōneke’s most distinctive buildings – until it tragically burned to the ground early one morning in 2019. Filmed over the decade prior, this documentary tells the story of the unique marae and its founder, Bruce Stewart.
Sitting in prison in the early 1970s, Bruce Stewart (Ngāti Hei – Te Arawa, Ngāti Raukawa – Tainui) had a dream. He imagined a place where people could learn more about Māori culture and reconnect with Papatūānuku, mother earth. Not long after his release in 1974, building began on what would become Tapu Te Ranga marae.
Years later, in the 1990s, filmmaker Vanessa Patea moved to Island Bay in Wellington. One day her boyfriend went for a walk around their new neighbourhood and came home excited to tell her about an incredible multi-storey building made from recycled wood he’d come across in the hills. It was Stewart’s marae, which from humble beginnings had grown to a vibrant and vital community centre.
Before long, Patea found herself a part of the marae community, involved in everything from te reo classes, music and art workshops to its forest restoration project. One day, she had the idea with longtime friend and collaborator Ruth Korver to make a documentary about the marae, and for years the pair worked on the project without any funding, filming when they could as a labour of love.
Then, within the space of a couple of years, two big events changed everything. Bruce Stewart passed away at the marae in 2017, then late one winter night in 2019, a fire tore through the main building, burning it to the ground. All the footage Patea and Korver had filmed – of the marae and of Stewart in the final year of his life, talking about his hopes and dreams for the marae’s future – was now a priceless record of something lost forever.
Suddenly, completing the documentary took on a new importance – it was now a way to remember the marae and honour the legacy of Kaumatua Bruce Stewart.
Tapu Te Ranga Marae was directed by Vanessa Patea, produced by Ruth Korver and made by Useful Media.
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