Must-see Film: Poi E: The Story of Our Song

We chat to producer Reikura Kahi about the making of Poi E: The Story of Our Song

Poi E: The Story of Our Song, showing at the New Zealand International Film Festival.

Poi E: The Story of Our Song, showing at the New Zealand International Film Festival, shines light not only on the 80s Te Reo hit Poi E, but on the larger-than-life man behind it, Dalvanius Prime. Prime, who recorded the song with the Patea Maori Club, also had a lesser-known disco career with The Fascinations in the 70s.

From recreating a performance from this era, to travelling the world tracing the Poi E story with her husband, the film's director Tearepa Kahi, we chat to producer Reikura Kahi about the making of the film.

Tell us about the process of creating the film. How did you and Tearepa get involved?
When the Patea Maori Club and the Prime Whanau invited Tearepa in to tell their story, we were living over in Rarotonga, recovering from [previous film] Mt. Zion. As the possibility of the film opened up and interest gathered, we moved back and prepared for production in 2014. Initially it was supposed to be a shoot over three months, slated for release on Waitangi Day of 2015. But then the characters grew and grew and the story deepened and we required much more time in the edit.

What were some of the stories that came out during filming?
Every day and every character added a new dimension to the story, and while each person understood their own part in the play, they didn't necessarily understand the full context and interconnectedness with each other. The weaving of the edit across coasts, time and countries required the most time. One interesting point is that the entire backing track to Poi E was recorded from 5-6pm on a Friday night at Mascot studios, as that's all the studio time the group could afford.

Did you manage to get most of the original Patea Maori Club members together for the movie?
There are many original members from PMC who are in the film and many more who have since passed on, but who are still with us through archival material. One of the great aspects of the film is the way in which past and present have been blended to tell the group's story.

What did you enjoy about making the movie?
I've been a fan of the Patea Maori Club since I was young and have been brought up in Kapa Haka my whole life. My mother was a member of Manutaki (Sir Pita Sharples' group) as was I, and I've always been a huge fan of Aunty Bib and Nana Bub, so to meet them and see them onscreen was a personal highlight for me.
How long did filming last?
Production began mid-2014 in Patea and we shot various scenes and interviews in Auckland as well. Some key scenes were shot a year later. There were many rivers to cross and many people to bring together. What started off small became much bigger as the story went on, which I think is exactly how Dalvanius would have wanted it.

Will you be taking the movie overseas after the NZIFF?
It would be great for the Patea Maori Club to take this film overseas. It seems like a story that can travel in the footsteps of the song. If people around the world want to know who we are as a nation, they need look no further than the community spirit of Patea.

Tell us about the 70s recreation scene in the film.
Dalvanius and his sister Barletta had an amazing 70s style and look. They basically brought disco to Australia and sported every type of hat and heel imaginable. The look created for the recording of Voodoo Lady was as faithful to their photos from that time as possible. Barletta always wore free-flowing dresses with wild colours, and Dalvanius was always about the hat and feather.

The shooting style was something Tearepa took from When We Were Kings: wild lighting, jump cuts and mid-flight resizes and lens flares. Dalvanius and Barletta were amazing performers, but you can see through all their photos that fashion was just as important to them as the performance. Dalvanius sewed a lot of the costumes for the Fascinations - he could pull off everything from sequins to paua-studded suits to pink feather boas.

Voodoo Lady was a song Dalvanius penned for his friend, the one and only Carmen. Thankfully I'm too young to remember when it was released, but we picked it because the live recording has such an amazing sound in the vocals as does the backing band, Collision.

Does the song Poi E have a special meaning for you - were you a fan when it came out?
Poi E is still an amazing song, and even though I've heard it so many times throughout the production and edit, it never ceases to surprise me, though perhaps the meaning of the song has now changed for me. As a child, it was a cool song with a full voice and energy. Now when I hear it, I think of our extended whanau.

• Screenings of Poi E: The Story of Our Song at the New Zealand International Film Festival are sold out. The film opens in cinemas at the end of the month.

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