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Filmmaker Letter

Filmmaker Letter

Hunt for the Wilderpeople

by director/co-writer Taika Waititi

I first fell in love with the idea for Hunt for the Wilderpeople in 2005, when I was approached to adapt Barry Crump’s bestselling New Zealand novel, Wild Pork and Watercress. The book is a New Zealand classic, which documents the experiences of an old man and a foster child on the run from social welfare out in the Kiwi bush. I was younger, better looking and less experienced back then, and wrote a far too serious and intense pass on the story—there was no comedy in it at all. So I left the book alone for a while. Ten years and three features later, I came back to it and wrote the screenplay of the film you see today.  

Once I’d written the script, I wanted to make the film as quickly as possible: from pre-production to the world premiere at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival took 9 months, with principal photography completed in just five weeks. We shot in the middle of the New Zealand winter in some very harsh, very remote conditions—think The Revenant but starring a 12-year-old New Zealand Leonardo DiCaprio.

This story has a deeply New Zealand quality that I hope will resonate with international viewers. It is the romanticism of the dense and mystical New Zealand bush, mixed with the outlaw appeal of our rebellious and rugged heroes that promises an adventure filled with guts and humour. Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a story of survival, kinship, hunts and bounty hunters, with a good old car chase thrown in for good measure.

I’ve always been attracted to stories of the outsider, the rebel, those who live in the margins. I love the way this story takes two outsiders from different backgrounds, an odd couple forced to work together in a quest to stand independent and free of society's unfair regulations. It’s these two outsiders, Hec (Sam Neill) and Ricky (Julian Dennison), who will be our guides in this world. There’s a great difference between the two of them: old meets new, age meets youth, bush meets city, Pakeha [European] meets Māori, and wisdom meets instinct. Whether Hec and Ricky are justified in their mission isn’t important, the mere fact they’re fighting for something as simple as freedom is what appeals. In a world of apathy, where “sheeple” stand for causes on Facebook rather than taking to the streets, these characters are throwbacks to the New Zealand heroes of old; those fighters and survivors upon whose blood, sweat and tears the country was built. We root for them because they’re giving it a go, they’re fighting the good fight.