Night Raiders producers Ainsley Gardiner and Chelsea Winstanley on powerful collaboration between Māori and indigenous Canadian filmmakers

Night Raiders is a futuristic thriller about a first nation mother on a mission to rescue her daughter from a state-run institution.

Produced by wāhine toa Ainsley Gardiner and Chelsea Winstanley, it's the first joint co-production between Māori and indigenous Canadian filmmakers creating a powerful collaboration of cultures.

"One of the biggest strengths really is just you to talk about their shared experience and we all understand that mamae and what it's done and we can we can share in that, but we can also share, maybe the positives too," Winstanley says.

"And we can look forward together and we can actually participate in something where we have ownership of that and ownership of our own stories, and together we can make a bigger impact if we do that together."

Written in 2016 by Cree descendant Danis Goulet and set in 2043, the film features a virus and border closures - concepts well ahead of their time, but now all too familiar.

"You just weren't even thinking about it at the time. But now to think of it, it's like, wow, she's a matakite just seeing into the future, so it's quite amazing," Winstanley says.

"But it's what I love about that and what she was doing is she's bringing it into the now and it's relative everything that happened and history, even, you know, that stuff is actually relative now, and we need to talk about it because it's something we need to discuss."

Gardiner says them both being indigenous helped when making the movie.

"I think that's the interesting thing about being indigenous is that we are both able to confidently see into the future with you, whether you are matakite or just because we have that kind of forward-thinking mind and that the past is so important to us in terms of what it teaches us and our whakapapa," Gardiner says.

The movie boasts the biggest budget for an indigenous film. Tangata whenua brought a new lens to the sci-fi genre.

"We don't want to always tell stories about our trauma and being in a gang or, you know, set in the 40s, we want to capture all of the themes and the kind of experience and the whakapapa of those stories and then find a new way of telling those stories," Gardiner says.

The movie was an ambitious project and was filmed amid the pandemic.

"So, you know, with COVID hitting in 2020, we had to completely restructure how we did it. So I have literally never met the other two producers on this film. I know them so well. I've spent so much time talking to them, but I never stepped foot in Canada and I never had met," Winstanley says.

"I think while it was forced upon us, I think we embraced us and had actually, rather than being a limiting thing, it reminds you that we're able to work together and all places in the world.

"Indigenous people have always had to adapt anyway. I'm constantly changing or having to learn the ways of the other. And really, we're really good at mastering that. And now it's time for perhaps, you know, a reverse angle, come and come and be part of our world."

Ainsley Gardiner and Chelsea Winstanley.
Ainsley Gardiner and Chelsea Winstanley. Photo credit: The Hui

Winstanley is broadening her world more every day, having enrolled in an immersion Te Reo Māori course at Te Wānanga Takiura.

"The beautiful thing about doing something full time like this is that it's not just learning language. There's so much more you're able to discover and experience. I just love it. I'm like, literally and soaking up this Reo, and not just the Reo but tikanga as well," she says.

"I think it just changes you. Perhaps it's more like a confidence thing too, like I know it's something that's always held me back in a way of life, not feeling adequate enough to participate fully in that world, and I think this is going to enable me just to have that little bit of extra confidence."

It was pioneering filmmaker Merata Mita who was a mentor to both Winstanley and Gardiner early on in their careers.  

The project speaks to the very heart of the legacy Mita left to "decolonise the screen", encouraging Māori and women to make movies.

"Putting ourselves in the future means that we're still here. And colonisation was meant to annihilate us and forget about us, and we were meant to be a race. But we're still here - just," Gardiner says.

"That's exactly what she was doing and had been doing her entire career. One of Merata's strategic goals was to create these global indigenous friendships and partnerships so that we would get to the place that Night Raiders brought us to, which I was working to give that meaningfully and bringing finances together to tell a story.

"So it really was a very visionary state that she started doing that decades ago, trying to build these relationships amongst us so that we would be able to come together in this way."

The pair say the best way audiences can support indigenous women filmmakers is to watch their stories on the big screen.

"It's all very well to go, 'I want to wait and see it on Netflix', or something like that. It's actually not how we're going to have more of our stories made because we need to show we need to change the minds of the distributors," Winstanley says.

"And the exhibitors are really the ones that hold a lot of power and this whole kind of chain of filmmaking because they want to decide how long that films will stay in the theatre.

"So we actually have to show them that you should keep it in the theatre. You should support this film because we want to see it, so go out and see it."

Made with support from Te Māngai Pāho and the Public Interest Journalism Fund.