Poi E: Tearepa Kahi on learning

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Working out the structure in the edit is always the most difficult and most challenging aspect of making a film, Tearepa reckons. “You can have fun on a shoot, production’s great, the people are good – we had a really good crew. You are walking together, and although you might be walking blind, you are all forging the road ahead together.”

But the edit suite is different. “It’s not that it’s lonely that makes it difficult, that it’s hard to get right – it’s brutal! It might work on a 30-inch screen, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to necessarily work on a 40-foot cinema screen. Then there are the character arcs, the trajectory, the rate of exposition… Then there’s the story, the spirit of the story.”

Another tough aspect in the edit was that at the beginning they had forged ahead with some re-creations that later had to be dropped. Radio interviews were recreated using a Digi-bolex camera, which gave a very 16mm feel to the image. Tearepa felt that they were doing something quite innovative, and was extremely happy with the results but in the end they were let go of to serve the story. “In retrospect, we should’ve filmed the documentary first.”

When challenged about using reconstructions in a documentary, Tearepa’s response was to say that a reconstruction is a decision that one has to find one’s way to, to arrive at, after a huge amount of ground work and exploration. “I know that now, because I came into this as a writer, rather than as a documentarian.”

He paid tribute to his ‘spiritual editing consultant’, Annie Collins, “a Jedi… the most critically in-tune editor – no, storyteller, she’s a storyteller. When she arrives at a decision, it’s already gone through about 20 different filters, 20 different circuit boards.

After having put together a cut himself that he was pretty happy with and felt needed just a few tweaks here and there, Tearepa spent a week with Annie. The biggest focus in their critical discussions was not the decisions themselves, but how he had arrived at those decisions – the process.

“It was good. Well, it wasn’t good, it was painful!”

Annie didn’t lay down any new pathway, but she prepared him for the new steps ahead. Which were basically, detonate, start again, move forward with more critical thinking.

“32 years of story – it’s an ocean of material. You can get very lost very quickly.” But with Collins’ mentoring, Tearepa found what he believed to be the best direction.

In the making of most documentaries, there are moments of unexpected discovery or serendipity that often provide “documentary gold”. Poi E is no exception, and the footage of Ngoi and Dalvanius meeting and creating that song, along with a long-forgotten cassette of them singing their new creation together, is artfully integrated into Tearepa’s film.

In production on Poi E Photo Tuteri Rangi Haeata

In production on Poi E
Photo: Tuteri Rangihaeata

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