The festival putting Māori film on the world map

This Queen's Birthday weekend Māori filmmakers will take over the small Hawke's Bay town of Nuhaka for the annual Wairoa Māori Film Festival.

Festival director Leo Koziol was inspired by overseas festivals that popped up in small towns and saw how they could rejuvenate their local communities. Thirteen years on, the festival has evolved into the country's premier festival for indigenous cinema.

"It was just an explosion of creativity, energy, and excitement, and it's just really carried on ever since," Koziol told Newshub.

Koziol could've held the festival in any major city, but says the Wairoa community is what keeps the festival going year-by-year.

"People said to us 'a Māori film festival? Are there enough Māori films?!' and then they saw a Wairoa Māori film festival - 'a film festival in Wairoa?!'"

Most filmmakers go through the usual submission process, but Lani Feltham's an exception - her debut Mouse was handpicked by Koziol to premier at the festival.

"I've written a lot and produced, but this is the first film I've directed so it to me feels like an amazing place to launch my film," she says.

"To be on a marae, in a Māori context, in that sacred space is so beautiful. I'm really excited!"

And while mainstream festivals often focus on only one or two aspects of what it means to be Māori, a specifically Māori film festival allows for the entire spectrum.

"There's many, many different experiences that can be shown in one singular context of 'this is a Māori festival', so I think that's a really amazing and beautiful thing," says Feltham.

Feltham says short films are usually quite male-oriented and straightforward, whereas women and Māori filmmakers have a different way of telling stories.

"It might be more like a conversation, a korero, or it might be circular. And Mouse is a little bit like that - I set out to make a film about a relationship and I wanted to show how relationships go round in circles."

The festival is held on the marae each year to coincide with Matariki.

"It's the time that it's cold, it's time to retreat inside and sit in front of a warm toasty fire. And what better time than to watch a Māori movie?" says Koziol.

The Wairoa Māori Film Festival now incorporates Pasifika and other indigenous cinema, like Canadian Inuit and Aboriginal Australian.

"So now there's a network, a circle of indigenous film communities and film festivals, and we just share the love every year on the indigenous film festival circuit," says Koziol.

That circuit will see Māori film go where it's never been before - Koziol's helping put together a festival in Italy next year.