An interview with Micah Winiata
Micah Te Kaponga Winiata is a Kiwi filmmaker hailing from Tauranga. His film Taiao won "Best Aotearoa Project" at the 2022 Vision Feast Festival and was awarded a $3000 Rubber Monkey Rentals package.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and Kaponga Pictures
Ko Micah Te Kaponga Winiata tōku ingoa, My name’s Micah, I’m from Tauranga Moana, I was born and raised there, my iwi Ngāti Ranginui is from there, so everything is very Tauranga. I have a production company called Kaponga Pictures, which is my middle name with “Pictures” at the end. Back in the day that was my first ever production company, you know just throwing around ideas, making short films with my friends and it was "Kaponga Pictures", so I’ve just stuck with that name ever since. Kaponga translated means “The Capturing” so I think it’s quite an eloquent way to describe the Kaupapa or why I made that production company and the films I want to make though it. Capturing the stories of Tauranga and the stories that are important to me.
Where did the idea for Taiao come from?
It was back in 2020 when managed isolation was just starting, I came back from my study in Chicago. You don’t find yourself with that much time these days, so to have 2 weeks by yourself in a hotel room to work on your passion project after studying overseas was sort of the perfect storm of things I wanted to do. I spent about 2 weeks writing the treatment for it, watching all my favourite experimental films that I'd picked up while I was overseas. I really wanted to explore Tauranga in a different way as an adult, you think you know your hometown inside out but more often once you have that life experience you can look at how you’re raised and where you’re raised with a different perspective, so that’s where it was born. Then I assembled a crew of everyone that I love to work with, so it’s kind of, from its very essence, a passion project.
What was devised first, Music or Visuals?
We had this amazing composer Nikau Wi Neera who studies at the music school in Wellington, he’s a really prolific Taonga Pūoro artist. I was really keen to work with him and I’d written out the whole treatment, so we knew what I was aiming to get. I did want to get the music to influence us on set so we could get the vibe of how this is rhythmically going along, but it kind of didn’t work out that way because of the funding through Someday Stories, it was a really fast turnaround. So we shot everything and then we kind of pieced it together in the edit with temp tracks as the music was coming through. The sucky thing about temp tracks is that you have to kill your baby slightly, you know, what rhythms and sequences work. It was definitely in the end, visuals first and then the music boosting up all these magic moments.
Were there any ideas that didn’t end up making it into the film?
Yeah so thankfully we had funding from Someday Stories, I initially had this pretty epic national story which was all about how money is made from the environment. So I had all these ideas of going to the national reserve and filming money getting made, but nothing about the legality of that. Then they really asked me and made me hone into why I was making it, and then I decided it’s kind of obvious to make it more local. With the next project; a bigger one hopefully, I can go a bit more national. I think it was the honing to the locality of the bay of plenty that really made the film.
How long have you been a filmmaker?
I feel like you can either say you’ve been a filmmaker since you were like 10 years old, or you can say you’re a filmmaker from the film you feel has manifested and represents you as an artist or filmmaker. I think for me I kind of want to go to the latter which is the whole theory of why I want to make films and that ultimate expression kind of came through only in Taiao. So I would say technically that's my first film, because everything came together in such a way that what came into my head came out on screen in the perfect way. But to answer the question properly, maybe 5 years.
What do you think you’ll be using the rentals package for? Any future projects?
I have a few ideas, I work as a producer and then I have these passion projects I can invest myself into. I’m pretty keen to make another non-verbal documentary but in a completely different way. I’m pretty keen to make it an Aerial documentary, I really like the first person drones that many filmmakers have been using in Hollywood, it’s either a drone kind of film or a something on the ground like interviews, something really honest or pono, I’m not sure yet.
What’s your most memorable experience from shooting?
I studied in Chicago from 2019 to 2020, that was the second film school I went to and I kind of went there to see bigger and better things you know? There were sound stages that we could rent out and just use, getting that experience of having a production designer that can build an interior set for you, move out walls and put your cameras in everywhere, that was a pretty neat experience. It was pretty modern, having all the right camera gear and crew, that was probably one of the most memorable experiences. Students don’t often get that opportunity.
What are some films/filmmakers that have really inspired you?
When I went over to Chicago there were a whole bunch of old theatres over there that played 35mm, 70mm, all the wanky art-house stuff and I really got an education in what films could be. I watched a bunch of non-verbal documentaries such as Chronos, Baraka and Samsara all by Ron Fricke, who is a DOP Director. There’s also a trilogy called the Qatsi Trilogy, which are probably the first non-verbal documentaries, and they just have this ability to communicate and tell a story without words that I felt like I could really do in a Māori way, which is interesting. So there’s Godfrey Reggio who is the OG, and then there’s Ron Fricke, but personally I think my favourite filmmaker is probably Christopher Nolan, I'm a Stan. Every film that he makes is pretty outstanding.