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Die Another Day director Lee Tamahori has always wanted to make a Western, but says he can’t get one financed in Hollywood.
“I’m a great fan of the American Western. It’s my favorite genre and always has been,” the New Zealand director told a Saturday Berlin Film Festival press conference for Mahana, his latest film that comes two decades after his breakout hit Once Were Warriors.
“I always wanted to make one, but the chances are diminishing very fast for anyone to make an American version of an American Western because no one will finance such things,” Tamahori added. So he finally directed Mahana, a Western drama set in 1960s rural New Zealand.
“My publicist told me not to call the film a Western, but I’m calling it a Western,” Tamahori said. The Kiwi drama, having its world premiere in Berlin, portrays the Mahana family rivalry and reconciliation, set against the stunning backdrop of rural New Zealand in the 1960s.
Temuera Morrison, who played Jake the Mus in Tamahori’s 1994 film Once Were Warriors, in Mahana is an older, staunchly traditional grandfather to 14-year-old Simeon Mahana, played by Akuhata Keefe, who struggles with emerging modern ways. As the Mahana family ties start to unravel, the young boy reveals the truth of his community’s deeply buried divisions.
Between Once Were Warriors and Mahana, Tamahori has had a thriving Hollywood career, directing movies like xXx: State of the Union and The Edge. Now returning to his New Zealand roots, Tamahori said he likes the American Western for being a pure morality play.
“It has very few complexities. There’s good, there’s bad, there’s evil,” he explained. Tamahori said Mahana shares with the American Western such things as a vast landscape, rugged people, loners like Morrison’s patriarchal character and self-made men.
His Kiwi drama even includes a scene from the classic 3:10 to Yuma shown on a cinema screen, with the “overblown sequence done just so the girl can kiss the boy,” Tamahori revealed.
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