Oscar Kightley on his 'long path' from shy kid to directing Dawn Raid

As Oscar Kightley sat at the Manukau Cinemas as the Dawn Raid movie played for the first time, he wasn't watching the screen. Instead, he was looking around, taking in the reactions from the local South Auckland community. 

"I was trying not to be creepy and watch them too close," he jokes. 

Nervous, he listened intently and waited to see when they went quiet, when they laughed and when they gasped.   

"It's always about the audience," he told Newshub. 

Watch the video above  

With training in theatre, he's valued being able to read feedback. 

"If you suck you know straight away but with films, you don't get to do that until you're sitting in there with the audience, and you see what they feel as well."  

Oscar Kightley on his 'long path' from shy kid to directing Dawn Raid

The premiere was a milestone, making Kightely think of how far he'd come. 

He recalled memories of the young kid who still lives not too far from his mind - himself -  as a scared, shy boy who travelled from Samoa at four years old, terrified of Auckland's concrete aesthetic. 

"This has been a dream for nearly 30 years, since I saw Spike Lee's Do The Right Thing, wanting to be a film director," Kightley says. 

"Everything I've done has been practice, presenting, making music videos, directing comedy, doing theatre, writing, storytelling, I think it's all contributed to this. For me, it's been a long path." 

In the days since, reactions to Kightley's directorial debut have been overwhelmingly positive, celebrating his work in bringing the untold story of Dawn Raid Entertainment to life.  

The narrative digs deep into how the hip hop label's founders, Andy Murnane and Tanielu Leaosavai'i (Brotha D), used a perfect mix of entrepreneurship and bold determination to put New Zealand music into the spotlight.

The label gave Kiwi artists like Savage, Aaradhna, Adeaze and Deceptikonz a chance at success on a world stage.  

Oscar Kightley on his 'long path' from shy kid to directing Dawn Raid

Murnane and Leaosavai'i took a T-shirt business and turned it into a pivotal launch pad, while contributing hugely to a community of youths who needed inspiration from people they could relate to. 

Now that the film has been released, he says knowing the impact it can have on a person isn't something he takes lightly.  

"I don't take myself very seriously, but I take the work seriously because you should, but you shouldn't take yourself too seriously. I think that can get in the way of the work," he says. 

He holds close the achievement of being able to show kids a different side of South Auckland. 

The film also allowed legacies to live on, with Kightley bringing South Aucklanders into the spotlight who people might have forgotten about.  

Kightley admits that paying tribute to an empire that so many Kiwis were a part of in some way is something special.   

"Sometimes I don't like to dwell on how cool it is, because I would just sit there with a big smile on my face but you have to get on with life."

Oscar Kightley on his 'long path' from shy kid to directing Dawn Raid

Kightley's presence in the art space has been consistent and diverse with his varying contributions to productions like Sione's Wedding, bro'Town, Super City and Hunt for the Wilderpeople making him a widely-respected industry figure. 

To him, his creative endeavours all relate back to one thing - expressing himself, while his knack for storytelling comes from an interest to allow others to relate to one another, and establish common ground that's not always so obvious. 

"When everyone realises how connected we are, that's the real value of hearing stories," he says. 

"I came from Samoa, I grew up here, I think just being part of the landscape and letting that stuff seep into your DNA, that connects you with the audience, so when you do stuff, it should reach the audience, it should hit. Otherwise, you're just too much in your own head.

"I reckon the best storytellers are the ones that take off all the masks and be who they are, rather than fronting and the norms that we think are appropriate at different situations."

Oscar Kightley on his 'long path' from shy kid to directing Dawn Raid

He says reaching an audience is the part that brings him the most joy, but he isn't totally immune to the insecurities that can come with putting yourself out there. 

"We have very little control in our lives, you get anxious when you perceive that you're losing that control, which you don't have anyway."

He often thinks of the "scared little Samoan boy" who went to New Zealand not speaking English, terrified of all the concrete and wondering where all the trees were. 

"I remember how scared I was then about what life was going to hold and I didn't have to worry, so to any youngsters, it's like man, don't be scared, just do it, and ignore the voices in your head that tell you you can't."