A film by Ainsley Gardiner & Briar Grace-Smith, adapted from the acclaimed novel by one of New Zealand’s most prominent and celebrated Māori authors Patricia Grace, COUSINS is an intimate account of colonial cruelty clashing with Maori custom.

Mata, Missy and Makareta are cousins, separated by stale colonial paternalism. Orphaned Mata believes she has no extended family or community when she becomes a ward of the state, becoming something of an indentured servant to a white supremacist woman and lives out her lonely childhood in fear and bewilderment.

Back home on the land, educated Makareta comes into conflict with traditional cultural practice fleeing an arranged marriage to study law and begin the search for her missing cousin, leaving behind cheeky yet dutiful Missy who saves family face by becoming a surrogate spouse, eventually taking on her role of kaitiaki (guardian) of the land.

As the years pass and land surveyors begin to encroach, their promise to bring their stolen cousin home seems more unlikely than ever, until a chance encounter changes everything.

COUSINS is a beautifully crafted film that looks at the vagaries of vagrancy, how dispossession leads to despair, that land theft is akin to identity theft, yet despite the despair and desperation, the spirit of hope and truth endures.

Filming in Rotoiti at Te Waiiti Marae under the care of Muriwai Ihakara and the local Ngāti Hinekura and Ngāti Pikiao people gives verisimiltude to Te Ao Māori, and the film is all the richer for it.

The cast is exceptional, with the formidable Rachel House playing the indomitable older Missy, the pragmatic earth mother of the family and cultural custodian of the community.

We see a lot of quirky Kiwi fare and COUSINS certainly shares the cheeky charm we expect from New Zealand cinema. It’s heart rendering, heart felt and soulful.