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Don Selwyn


A dark cloud has fallen on the Maori world as well as the movie world.

Veteran New Zealand filmmaker Don Selwyn has died after battling ill health for more than two years.

Selwyn was renowned for doing it all - he acted, produced and directed for the stage, television and film.

But he was also a tireless champion and mentor for young Maori and Pacific actors.

Selwyn worked hard to create greater opportunities for Maori and Pacific Islanders in film, TV and theatre.

He made his acting debut in a pink tutu with butterfly wings as King of the Fairies in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. The role came about as a result of a dare to stand in for an actor who became ill during the stage production.

Selwyn joined a Shakespeare company road tour and took on roles of playing Caesar, Anthony, Othello and Shylock.

He expanded his skills to a musical role in Porgy and Bess in 1965 alongside famous baritone Inia te Wiata.

Selwyn went on to star in some of New Zealand's ground-breaking films - Sleeping Dogs with Sam Neil and Goodbye Pork Pie with the late Bruno Lawrence, and television dramas such as Pukemanu, Mortimer's Patch and The Governor.

He was a founding member of the New Zealand Maori Theatre Trust, and he set up a film and television training course for Maori and Pacific people.

Don't go past with your Nose in the Air won him best foreign short film at the New York Film Festival, followed eight years later with the feature The Feathers of Peace.

He went on to secure roles for Maori actors in major local movies like Once were Warriors.

Selwyn's last work was to bring to life the 1945 Maori translation of The Merchant of Venice, a project combining his passion for Shakespeare with his life-long commitment to the Maori language.

Don Selwyn was 71.

So rest peacefully in the arms of our Creator, oh noble one.

Massey University honours the Maori filmmaker

Veteran filmmaker Don C. Selwyn, ONZM (Ngati Kuri and Te Aupouri ) has received Te Tohu Tiketike a Te Waka Toi, an award presented annually by Te Waka Toi for outstanding contribution to the development of Maori arts.

The actor, director and film maker was awarded an honorary Doctorate in Literature by the University, recognising his distinguished leadership and high level dedication and scholarship to the advancement of Mäori acting, film, television and theatre. Te Pütahi-a-Toi, at the Palmerston North campus, resounded with song in tribute to Dr Selwyn, including a solo performance of an aria from The Mäori Merchant of Venice by Wiremu Winitana.

Head of the School of Mäori Studies Professor Mason Durie said one of the aims of the University is to identify Mäori 'champions' - scholars from across the disciplines, from literature, the arts to sports. "When you think about who has contributed to Mäoridom, some people stand out. Don Selwyn has tirelessly invested an enormous amount of passion, and decades of dedication to theatre and drama."

Tributes flowed for Dr Selwyn, from the speeches during the powhiri to the formal accolades from the Chancellor, orator Associate Professor Tai Black and special guest speaker Sir Howard Morrison.

Along with Dr Selwyn's whanau, representatives from Rangitane iwi and Waikato were also present; as were members of New Zealand's film industry including actor Cliff Curtis and New Zealand's oldest Mäori actor, Ramai Hayward of Rewi's Last Stand; students from Mäori schools throughout the North Island; and film crews recording the ceremony for a special docu-mentary to be screened later in the year.

Dr Selwyn said he at first felt undeserving of the honour but once it was explained to him that the award was a way for the University to recognise many people, then he accepted.

"I felt more comfortable with that. One of the things that struck me about this University is the life force behind its commitment to Mäori. People here are so caught up with uplifting our people in any way they can. If I can be a focus for that philosophy, there was no real way I could turn them down."

Chancellor Morva Croxson described Dr Selwyn as a wise man who had brought love and tenderness through the Mäori language to the big screen. As director of the groundbreaking film The Mäori Merchant of Venice, he had created a "wondrous link between languages and nationalities and the past and present".

Dr Black spoke of the inspiration Dr Selwyn has been to a whole generation of New Zealand actors, many of whom had sent tributes to Dr Selwyn. He said The Mäori Merchant of Venice reflects Dr Selwyn's commitment to revitalising Te Reo Mäori. Dr Black also honoured the Tainui scholar Pei Te Hurinui Jones, who translated Shakespeare's work into classical Mäori in 1945, and recognised his place - and by connection Don Selwyn's - in Mäori-dom. He said the actor Don Selwyn gave Mäori an image of themselves on screen at a time when they were largely absent. "By taking Dr Jones' translation and making it into a film, Don has given us a taonga for all Mäori."

Sir Howard Morrison praised The Mäori Merchant of Venice as a "benchmark of the acceptance of Te Reo, that would have an impact on the whole of New Zealand". He said Don Selwyn is very deserving of the honour and is in a position to enable it to have a flow-on effect to young Mäori talent, which needs to be recognised at an earlier age.


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