Poi E: The Story of Our Song
Directed by Tearepa Kahi
Written and directed by Tearepa Kahi (Mt Zion) and starring Maaka Pohatu (The Modern Maori Quartet, Two Little Boys) the film tells the story of musician Dalvanius Prime and the origin of the song “Poi E”, a ground-breaking fusion of 1980s pop and traditional Māori music. “Poi E”, composed by Dalvanius and Ngoingoi Pēwhairangi and performed by the Patea Māori Club, remains the only song in Te Reo Māori to reach No 1 in the charts, over 30 years since its 1984 release.
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★★★★★ review by Karl von Randow on Letterboxd
Seen at the world premiere at the opening of the New Zealand International Film Festival 2016. Absolutely delightful. Full of amazing, natural personalities. A story full of heart without pretence. A story of the local and international success of a small town Maori community; it captures what it feels like to be a New Zealander.
★★★★ review by Steve Austin on Letterboxd
Any cynicism I held about the politics or situation going into this was swiftly swept aside early on by the sheer good natured humour and terrific sense of pacing.
As well as being a document of the song and the times, director Tearepa Kahi augments otherwise flat moments with intimate clips and nostalgic footage with all of the different media at his disposal to create a surprising visual collage poem that should be required viewing for every kiwi.
It does flit a little too quickly over the death of Dalvanius (although we certainly feel the depth of the loss), takes a non-controversial stance on the politics of the time (but neatly eschews the potentially cringey intro at the Royal Gala from Rolf Harris), and does seem to stumble a couple of times on its own nostalgic logic.
But those are minor quibbles at what is an absolutely top-notch insight into one of the cultural marker-points of late-20th-Century New Zealand pop culture.
★★★★½ review by Aquila on Letterboxd
Watching this felt like a transcendent experience; joyful, tearful, celebratory, familiar, revelatory. And I'm just a Pakeha with a very limited musical appreciation.
It's such a gift that this fascinating story has been given a truly great film treatment that really honours it. Not just cutting from archival footage to talking heads; the film's director Tearapa Kahi uses an impressive range of techniques to put the audience right there at the song's inception, and lays out it's importance not just to Patea and Maori but to all of New Zealand, with good-natured humour and real affection for everyone who took part in the unprecedented triumph that was Poi E.
And it was a wonderful film to open the New Zealand Film Festival, the atmosphere of the crowd at Auckland' Civic Theatre was truly delighted and delightful. I hope everyone else's experience of the film is as moving as mine was.
E rere ra e taku poi porotiti
Tītahataha ra, whakararuraru e
★★★★★ review by George E. on Letterboxd
I love this country
★★★½ review by Doug Dillaman on Letterboxd
In which a feature-length behind the music made me cry harder than anything I've seen this year. (Which, given the song in question, surprised me more than anyone else.) The first half of this film was a lovely but bumpy ride for me (exacerbated by the fact that Dalvanius is no longer with us and archive footage is light-ish on the ground), but once Dalvanius Prime returns from soul adventures in Sydney to meet his eventual co-writers of "Poi E", the narrative gets moving. For those (like me) who didn't grow up with the song, its use is almost frustratingly sparing. This is clearly by design, and here I debate whether you can spoil the ending of this film. Suffice it to say that what I thought was the end of the film brought together so many different threads that showed how one crazy guy with a vision can change the world, a story for which I'm never not a sucker, and the coda brings a whole new dimension to the song that's hiding in plain sight.
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