Documenting life on the fringe in New York

Issue: Volume 98, Number 5

Posted: 20 March 2019
Reference #: 1H9sRH

A Ngārimu Scholarship is enabling a former teacher to tell the stories through film of Māori and other under-represented or misrepresented groups of people, particularly youth, in a way that accurately represents their perspectives.

Teaching debating skills to young men detained at New York’s Rikers Island jail complex with a population of more than 8,000 is a far cry from life in Te Whanganui Ā Tara. But that’s part of life for former New Zealand teacher and now New York-based documentary filmmaker Ana Montgomery-Neutze (Muaūpoko/Ngāi Tara).

Ana received a Ngārimu Scholarship in 2017/18. She said that it enabled her not only to complete her Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in Social Documentary Film through the School of Visual Arts, but also to remain in New York for a year after graduating to gain valuable industry experience.

“Ngārimu was a lifesaver for me,” Ana explains. “The scholarship came at a time where it was ‘do or die’ for me; I was going to either be able to stay here and finish what I started or face the possibility of returning home prematurely.

“The way I see my life is that I’m simply one of the next generation that need to carry the torch for our people.

“It’s my responsibility to those soldiers – our tūpuna and everybody else who fought hard for the opportunities we have today – to push on and do the things that need to be done, to keep things progressing in a positive direction. We have come a long way, but we still have a long way yet to go, so sitting on my hands is not an option.”

Currently based in New York on a period of post-academic training, Ana is completing her thesis film, which is an intimate portrait of a group of young men from Brooklyn who are working against all odds to build better lives for themselves. Some of them dance on New York’s subways as a way to make money to support themselves and their families and pursue their dreams of becoming musicians.


Shared connections

Ana says that since she has started spending time with the group they’ve adopted her as whānau and vice versa. Being Māori, she understands what it means to be marginalised as they have been, and what it’s like to watch one’s own people deal with racism, poverty, and the ongoing effects of cultural decimation.

Ana sees the lives of her own whānau and friends in the lives of the teens. Through her film she hopes to show the deep love they have for one another and their families, and the passion and sheer determination that they demonstrate in the pursuit of their dreams.

Ana’s colleagues at the New York School of Visual Arts.

Ana has found the cultural divide in New York greater than expected, sometimes making it difficult to connect with people, though there are opportunities to exchange cultural knowledge.

“What I’ve learned is that given the history of this country, people here are already dealing with so much themselves that they sometimes don’t have room to engage with other cultures that exist in the same city as them, let alone have the space to learn about people from the other side of the world.”

Rikers Island is a detention facility with 15 jails and a population of more than 8,000. Ana volunteers on a programme that teaches people a safe way to advocate for their political interests, resolve conflicts peacefully and productively, and empathise with a variety of perspectives.

Some of Ana's New York-based whānau.

“People of colour are over-represented in the justice system in America, just as they are back home. Volunteering with the debate programme is one small way that I can give something back to a community that has given so much to me, and allows me to connect with people that I otherwise would not get an opportunity to connect with.

“People find themselves in all types of situations, sometimes not through their own doing, and if I can do anything at all to help them feel more positive about their lives moving forward, I think it is my responsibility to do so,” she says.

Telling stories through film

Ana will return to New Zealand at the end of the year. Her intention is to enable Māori and other under-represented or misrepresented groups of people, in particular youth, to tell their stories through film in a way that accurately represents their perspectives.

She also wants to foster relationships between established documentary filmmakers and young, aspiring filmmakers, and make it easier for Māori documentary filmmakers to find their voices and gain national and international recognition for the work that they do.

Ngārimu VC and 28th (Māori) Battalion Memorial Scholarships(external link) support high-achieving tertiary students of Māori descent. Each year a group of exceptional Māori students is selected to continue the legacy of Victoria Cross winner Second Lieutenant Te Moana-nui-a-Kiwa Ngārimu and the other members of the 28th (Māori) Battalion. Six scholarships for a total value of up to $260,000 are awarded annually. 


BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 1:13 pm, 20 March 2019

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