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Rewi's Last Stand

It is more important that New Zealanders should have produced this film than that they should see one hundred films from Hollywood... I am surprised how near to producing a Cecil B. de Mille spectacle Mr Hayward has come.

Rewi’s Last Stand, New Zealand, 1940

aka: The Last Stand

Production company: Frontier Films
Written, directed & photographed by: Rudall Hayward
Associate cameraman: Edwin Coubray, Jay McCarthy
Music: Alfred Hill
Sound: Ron Purdy

With: Ramai Te Miha (Ariana), Stanley Knight (Ben Horton), Leo Pilcher (Robert Beaumont), Selwyn Wood (Rev. Morgan), Phoebe Clarke (Mrs Morgan), Tom Moisley (Old Tom), Henare Toka (Tamate te Heu Heu), Rauriti te Huia (Rewi Maniapoto)

Based on the official history The Maori Wars and the Pioneering Period by James Cowan. Produced with the assistance and co-operation of the Te Awamutu Historical Society

Watch an excerpt from Rewi's Last Stand

16mm, sound, B&W, 63 minutes, Exempt

When all is lost ... save courage.
Entirely surrounded ... outnumbered six to one ... battered and hungry ... a gallant 300 Maori men and women manned the crumbling battlements of Orakau Pa and flung defiance in the face of the British general who asked them to surrender. Here is New Zealand’s own motion picture ... written by a New Zealander, produced by New Zealanders, with music by our own Alfred Hill ... and enacted by a cast of the Dominion’s most experienced players, including Leo Pilcher, Stanley Knight and the beautiful Maori actress ... Ramai Te Miha — The Dominion, 26 July 1940

“It is more important that New Zealanders should have produced this film than that they should see one hundred films from Hollywood. In the film your nation expresses itself… It is a good film, and I am surprised how near to producing a Cecil B. de Mille spectacle Mr Hayward has come.” — The Dominion, 21 June 1940

“The ‘talkie’ version of Rewi’s Last Stand, produced by Rudall Hayward… makes an enthralling story out of one of the most dramatic episodes in New Zealand’s frontier history. The cast, headed by Ramai Te Miha, but numbered in anonymous hundreds, has done a fine job of work in bringing alive some of the atmosphere of pioneering days, and Alfred Hill’s music has added the finishing touch. … Rewi’s Last Stand has little of Hollywood slickness, and some of its technique is rather naïve, but the Maori sense of rhythmic movement, seemingly made specially for the camera; the fresh and honest approach to problems of filming which might have baffled greater virtuosity; the neat clowning of Old Ben with his soldier’s tricks for increasing the rum ration; the stirring battle scenes; and, above all, the real New Zealand flavour about the whole show, put it positively in the ‘must-see’ class. It is good entertainment, but it is also a satisfying slice of good, wholesome New Zealand.” — The Dominion, 27 July 1940

"Rewi’s Last Stand is a remake of Hayward’s 1925 silent version of the same name. For two main reasons it is the film for which Hayward is best remembered: after its release it became part of the School Film Library catalogue and was routinely seen in classrooms throughout the country; and, in 1970, it was bought by the NZBC (for $500) and became the first New Zealand feature film to screen on local television. It was also the first of Hayward’s films to receive an international release, screening in England during World War II. In order to meet the strict requirements of the British Quota system, the film was re-edited and the shorter version was released as The Last Stand. Without a print to work with, the master negative of the film was cut, sadly the edited portions have not survived. Although it is still referred to as Rewi’s Last Stand, it is actually only The Last Stand that is known to survive (and that we are screening tonight). The film did not to particularly well in Britain, because, Hayward said, it was wartime and the film did not show the British in a very good light! In 1940 Hayward made much of the fact that the film was based on historical fact as recorded in James Cowan’s official history, The New Zealand Wars. To make the film Hayward formed a syndicate with the Te Awamutu Historical Society under the name Frontier Films. The Historical Society formed numerous committees – Makeup Committee, Battle Committee, Scenario Committee – helped raise funds, and advised on matters such historical accuracy and casting, as well as filling some of the roles. Great things were hoped for the film, sadly it never did well enough for the shareholders in Frontier Films to realise a profit. Contemporary reviews of the film congratulated it for its historical accuracy, more recent histories have pointed out that it was a product of its time, remarking that “it simply and unconsciously reflected the subtlety of New Zealand racism of the time… Orakau was a bloody, almost genocidal confrontation between Maori and Pakeha with no quarter given. There was no romance just killing men, women and children, even after the battle, with the cavalry killing probably more Maori in retreat, then were killed in the Pa under shot and shell.” (Te Iwi o Aoteaora, February 1990). Regardless, Hayward intended the film as a tribute to the heroism of Rewi Maniapoto and his supporters. Today it stands also as a tribute to the enterprise and fortitude of its writer, director, photographer – Rudall Hayward." — Diane Pivac

Screenings: Rewi’s Last Stand screened as part of the selection 'Rarely Seen But Important (& Pleasurable)', curated by x-Film Commission marketing chief, Lindsay Shelton