Big Screen Symposium

Awanui Simich-Pene (Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Hauā, Ngāti Tuwharetoa, Ngāti Apakura, Croatian, Belgian) was raised by her whānau and people of the Far North. A strong spirit of social consciousness was roused in Awanui and her siblings from a young age through their immersion within the rōpū known as Te Kawariki, who actively pursued recognition of Māori rights and Te Tiriti o Waitangi. Waitangi Day was an important annual event where passion for cause was nurtured and demonstrated by parents, aunties, uncles, and cousins alike.

A child of the 1980s, Awanui is part of the first wave of the Kōhanga Reo generation, having started her journey with te reo Māori at Waimanoni marae in the far north followed by the kōhanga on her marae at Waimate North. Māori-medium education, for which her parents and whānau fought to achieve, remained an important influence through Awanui’s formative years. Horse riding was also a love cultivated within the home, where exploring the outdoors and attending equestrian events as a whānau, further shaped her outlook. Awanui left the Far North in Year 12 to attend Kamo High School in Whangarei because of their reputation for teaching photography, and then transferred to the Māori immersion unit at Western Springs College to further pursue her love of Te Ao Māori and art/photography.

In 2001 Awanui began a Bachelor of Arts degree at the University of Auckland, majoring in Māori and Sociology. She enrolled in a course in film studies, which then changed her career direction. She went on to enrol in the Bachelor of Performing and Screen Arts (writing & directing) at Unitec, graduating in 2005. Since then, Awanui has directed for television, including children’s Māori-language shows, PŪKORO and PUKANA; and documentary series for Māori TV such as TE HAERENGA, WARRANT OF FITNESS, and WHARE TAONGA. She has directed drama, including the BROWN BROTHERS TV series (TV3), and the feature-length play IRIRANGI BAY for the Atamira series on Māori TV. Most recently Awanui has directed FIND ME A MĀORI BRIDE (Season 2).

Awanui has also worked as a script supervisor on productions such as POWER RANGERS, feature films RUSSIAN SNARK and KAWA (based on Witi ihimaera’s book Nights in the Gardens of Spain); TV series THE BLUE ROSE, STEP DAVE, AGENT ANNA, and docu-drama PIKE, about the Pike River mine disaster. Most recently, Awanui is proud to have script supervised for the two new Māori TV dramas, THIS IS PIKI and HAKA CITY. She says, “I enjoy script supervising, it’s a challenging role where preparation is key. It’s helped me to develop a strong skill set which informs my directing as well. Getting to observe directors at work has been a wonderful learning experience for me, how they prep, how they communicate their ideas, and how they collaborate on set with actors and crew, I’m always watching and learning.” For Awanui, “directing is an extremely rewarding outlet for creativity, exploration, connection and heart, a role where I see a thorough process of preparation takes place, and then there is a kind of release that gives way to collaboration and instinct. This is an exceptionally creative space for me, and I have great enthusiasm for this work.”

The most recent collaboration for Awanui is being one of the eight Māori women directors on the innovative production, WARU. The eight-day shoot concluded in August, each day involving one director, shooting a ten-minute story, in one shot. For Awanui, “This has been an amazing project to be part of, bringing together these incredible women, some of whom I had not previously worked with. Looking across the table to women like Ainsley, Chelsea, Briar and Katie, I asked myself how I got there, then eventually I had to get over myself and just do the mahi! I just feel so blessed.”

See Awanui Simich-Pene in the following session:

WARU: Breaking the silence – Sat 24th September, 11:00 am.