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The Te Kooti Trail

"Stopped by the N.Z. Film Censor! Because of its Amazing Historic Realism – then released because it proved to be the truth. Filmed as it actually happened!"

The Te Kooti Trail, New Zealand, 1927

Scenario, direction, photography: Rudall Hayward
Adapted from the story by Frank H. Bodle
General assistants: Oswald Caldwell, RL Lees & the citizens of Progressive Whakatane
Interiors courtesy of Tornquist Studios, Auckland

With: Jasper Calder, Billie Andreasson, Arthur Lord, Eric Yandall, Edward Armitage, Te Pairi Tuterangi, H Redmond, Mary Kingi, Tina Hunt, AP Warbrick, J Tennant, J Warner, Tom McDermott, Arapeta Tuati, Tipene Hotene

35mm, tinted, 103 min @ 18fps, Exempt

Rudall Hayward (1900-1974) was fascinated by what he called "our rough-hewn story" and believed that material from the period 1840 to 1870 would make films equally as fascinating as any from the American West. It was always in the back of his mind, he said, to popularise New Zealand history by putting it on the big screen as an inspiration for the country’s youth.

Adapted from a newspaper serial written by Frank Bodle, The Te Kooti Trail was based on the account of the sacking of Mill Farm at Te Poronu related in volume 2 of James Cowan’s The New Zealand Wars. Hayward made much of the fact that the film was taken from the official accounts and went to great lengths to ensure its accuracy.

To finance the film Hayward established Whakatane Films Ltd, a syndicate of local businessmen. Altogether £900 was raised and the film was shot on location in seven weeks from early September 1927. The entirely amateur cast was recruited locally. Lead roles were decided by the player’s physical resemblance to the character to be portrayed while smaller roles were given to shareholders in Whakatane Films.

The Te Kooti Trail has received undue notoriety for causing New Zealand’s first homegrown censorship controversy. The film’s release was delayed by the censor WH Tanner (at the request of Maui Pomare, then acting Minister of Internal Affairs) for a special screening to Maori MPs and elders of the Ringatu Church to ensure it did not offend Maori sensibilities. As a result two intertitles were changed.

Hayward was incensed by what he saw as political intervention however he used the incident to maximise publicity. The famous by-line "Stopped by the N.Z. Film Censor! Because of its Amazing Historic Realism – then released because it proved to be the truth. Filmed as it actually happened!" quickly appeared.

Billed as New Zealand’s “greatest production”, The Te Kooti Trail had its world premiere at the Strand Theatre, Auckland on 17 November 1927. The film was favourably received and screened throughout New Zealand. Later it formed part of the National Film Library, however, it was only rarely screened until recently.

A nitrate print of The Te Kooti Trail was part of the Film Library’s archive collection transferred to the Film Archive in 1984. At that time decomposing sections of nitrate were removed and transferred to safety film. Subsequent preservation work was carried out as need and finance dictated.

With support from UNESCO, the last of the nitrate was transferred in 1994 and the preservation process was completed. In 2000 the Film Archive won the Haghefilm Award and the full restoration was achieved. This gloriously restored, tinted print of The Te Kooti Trail premiered at Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, Italy in 2001, aptly concluding the celebration of Hayward’s centenary putting him among his international peers.

Early in 2003 a special whanau screening for the descendants of characters, actors and personnel involved in the film was held at Te Hokowhitu-a-Tumatauenga Marae, Whakatane. — Diane Pivac

Rudall Hayward (1900-1974) began making films in the 1920s, when New Zealand's film industry was in its genesis. Filmmaking during this early period was difficult and beset by problems, most notably a lack of funding and equipment. Few were successful at it. Hayward was one of only a small handful who managed to sustain a fulltime career as a filmmaker.

Starting as a nine-year-old assistant to the Projectionist at Hayward's Theatre in Waihi, Rudall Hayward spent his lifetime in film. He died in 1974, but remains one of New Zealand's most prolific filmmakers.

Screenings: The first NZ feature to screen in the mediatheatre The Te Kooti Trail screened on 30 May 2004 as part of a selection made by actor and film maker Whetu Fala. Piano accompaniment was provided by Tama Karena. The Te Kooti Trail screened at the Auckland Museum on 5 February as part of an exhibition honouring Rudall Hayward