Design: Tina Tiller
Design: Tina Tiller

Pop CultureApril 4, 2022

TV co-creators Michael and Matariki Bennett on whānau, fantasy and the art of letting go

Design: Tina Tiller
Design: Tina Tiller

Filmmaker Matariki Bennett interviews her dad Michael (and vice versa) about working together writing and directing Te Kohu – The Mist, the latest episode of TVNZ horror anthology Beyond the Veil.

Michael: Do I interview you or do you interview me?

Matariki: We take turns…?

Michael: So Matariki, tell me about your new film Te Kohu. 

Matariki: Our film! Te Kohu is a story of a family learning to let go, letting their daughter fly. Specifically, it’s about an 18-year-old wild-spirited young Māori woman who has to choose between living in our world or living in the world of the Patupaiarehe, the tribe of the fairy people, when she falls in love with a Patupaiarehe. So really, it’s about her sister and her family being able to let her go. 

Michael: What was confronting and amazing about making this film with you was there was the story on screen and the story in our real world. You’re the youngest, you were 18 when we were making the film, the same age as the character Whetū. We’re telling the tale together of a young woman going to join the fairy people, but in a way, we’re telling the story of you and your siblings spreading your wings and flying. 

Matariki: Yeah, exactly! I remember when you, mum and I first started writing it, I was still living at home, then I went flatting and I would come around at 9am after being out all night and my friends would be saying what are you doing? And I’d say I’m making a movie with my family! 

Michael: So is now a good time to ask how you sprained your wrist last night? Outside which bar…?

Matariki: Stop it! It’s funny and beautiful, art imitating life. 

Matiriki Bennett and her dad Michael on set (Photo: Matt Klitscher)

Michael: There’s a thing I’ve always grappled with. With both your parents being creators, you and your siblings have turned out to be artists, and I’m never sure if that’s the greatest gift we could ever give or if we have somehow condemned you all!  There’s an aspect to Te Kohu about how scary it is to know we can’t always protect the people we love – kids grow up, they make choices, and you just have to open your fingers and let them go. As a parent, there’s something cathartic in this storytelling; maybe for you, aspects felt autobiographical?!

Matariki: Absolutely. And there was a real fluidness about telling the story of a loving family, when it was us as a family telling the story. There’s an ease to it. We (Tīhema, Māhina and l) grew up on film sets. I’ve seen you can follow your dreams and make a living from it. But also, there’s an ease in that the work isn’t scary – it’s not a mystical thing – all of us kids know how to be professionals, how to fit into the filmmaking process, and how to do really good work in that process. 

Michael: On Te Kohu I will never forget this magical moment. The five of us – Jane, you three kids, me – we were around the monitor, something unbelievably beautiful was happening onscreen – 

Matariki: Yeah, yeah, I know the exact moment you’re talking about!

Michael: Then I saw, in the reflection of the screen… us. All of us super concentrated, doing our jobs. But also, all five of us immersed and transported by the beauty of this thing unfolding, this thing we were creating as a whānau. If I do nothing else in my life professionally, that moment will keep me happy.

Matariki: I remember most the start of the shoot, the sun coming up over Te Maania, the beautiful homestead that was the family home in the film. The whole cast and crew holding hands as whānau did a karakia together. The feeling of that took away any fear and tension, I just knew we were all together and something special was going to happen. The other moment was at the waterfall where we shot, mist all around us – the magical moment where the sister and the Patupaiarehe fall in love. The elements and the landscape and the mist and the camera making this amazing painting-like image.

A scene from Te Kohu – The Mist (Photo: Supplied)

Michael: Directing is always a bit scary. Every time I step out on set as a director, I have no idea if this crazy wonderful vision is going to work, and I feel like if you’re not a bit scared then you’re not doing the job properly. Do you feel that way?

Matariki: It’s a big responsibility, not just your dream, you’ve dragged fifty people along with you…

Michael: But I learned so much from working with you. I carry that tension and responsibility in my jaw. I know, I’ve seen photos of myself, it’s not pretty! But with you, there’s just such joy as you work. I know you’re feeling just as much responsibility as me, but you have a good time. You have confidence in your storytelling voice and, of course, your reo. You were able to hold your own on set!

Matariki: The cast and crew were amazing. I loved being director with you. And sometimes being able to put you in your place! The time you were directing one particular scene and my scene was next, and you were about to steal my mirror shot that I’d planned for ages that was going to be in my scene –

Michael: In my defence, there was a mirror in the shot, it wasn’t a mirror shot!

Matariki: I told you what you were doing, you pulled your head in and you changed the shot. So, thank you, co-director… 

Michael: Thank you, co-director!

Te Kohu – The Mist screens at 9.25pm tonight on TVNZ 2, or stream the whole series now at TVNZ OnDemand.

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