Poi E: The story of our song
A doco gets a chorus of approval from TV3’s movie expert Kate Rodger.
STARRING DALVANIUS PRIME, NGOI PEWHAIRANGI AND THE PATEA MAORI CLUB ALONG WITH TAIKA WAITITI, STAN WALKER AND THE TOPP TWINS. DIRECTED BY TEAREPA KAHI.
Chosen to open the New Zealand International Film Festival this year, the slow-build hype on this long-gestating documentary about the hit song Poi E promised an unforgettable experience.
And so it is.
Miss Poi E: The Story of Our Song at your peril – it will deservedly settle into its rightful place in our cultural heritage, along with the song itself.
In 1984, Poi E reached number one on the local pop charts and remained in the list for 34 weeks. It outsold Thriller, for goodness’ sake. It’s been in the NZ Top 10 every decade for the past 30 years.
But more important than any of those statistics is the fact that Poi E was the first number-one song written and released entirely in te reo Maori. And this film is as much the story of Maori and their language, as it is about a pop song.
Clearly a passion project for filmmaker Tearepa Kahi, the film is a love song in itself. He was just seven years old when Poi E hit the charts in his hometown of Christchurch, but it has resonated with him ever since.
While the star of the show must be the late Dalvanius Prime, of course, and this film is mostly told through him, there are many other stars here, and not just the obvious ones, like Taika Waititi, Stan
Walker and the Topp Twins.
In fact – full respect – they are merely the backdrop for the cast of characters we’re introduced to in the Patea Maori
Club, and their friends, families and supporters. Disarming and charming, hilarious and moving, their narration of this story is both wildly entertaining and indelibly memorable. And above all, 100 per cent Kiwi.
Kahi tells his story with a mix of intuitively curated archival footage and recreations, augmented by home movies and ample interviews.
The use of archive – from old TVNZ news stories to classic episodes of chart show
Ready to Roll, or RTR as it became known, is managed perfectly.
For this teenager of the 1980s, it was terrifying in its familiarity, from the clothes to the streets to the cars to the people.
And of course, to the music.
This is the story of our song, but it’s also the story of the 80s urban drift from small-town New Zealand to the city, from the marae to the mall, of freezing works closures and the inexorable cultural disconnect. It’s Patea’s story. And like their song, this film belongs to them. Poi E was never just a Maori song, it was a New Zealand song, our song.