Review: We Are Still Here

Written and directed by Chantelle Burgoyne, Dena Curtis, Richard Curtis, Mario Gaoa, Danielle MacLean, Miki Magasiva, Renae Maihi, Tracey Rigney and Tim Worrall, co-writtenby Samuel Paynter and Tiraroa Reweti. The collective work of ten Indigenous filmmakers with eight stunning tales of Indigenous struggle, moving from the earliest days of European arrival, the Maori Wars, life in the trenches of World War I through to a dystopian vision of a future Aotearoa. A statement of Indigenous resilience and vitality in the face of persistent oppression. Starring: Clarence Ryan, Tioreore Ngatai-Melbourne, Leonie Whyman, Meyne Wyatt, Megan Wilding, Sean Mununggurr, Villa Junior Lemanu, Lisa Flanagan, Calvin Tuteao, Willow Rupapera and Bas Te Hira.

Anthologies are not an easy thing to put together, taking the styles and voices of no less than eight different shorts and putting them together to create one overall story is a challenge. We Are Still Here is a good example of how to do it right. It’s not about simply moving from one short to the other, letting each be its own chapter, these filmmakers come together to create one louder, consistent, strong voice. Actually weaving these stories together makes a big difference, to open up your perspective and see how one speaks and relates to the other. Spreading completely different times and situations but allowing you to see how the Indigenous struggle continues, just in a different form in each timeline.

Similarly to how the tones of each story work together well, the different directorial styles and aesthetics compliment one another. Perhaps with the exception of the animated style segments which are interesting initially and great as an introduction but when used later in the story it slightly pulls you away from the reality it has built. As well as a reliance on slow-motion which doesn’t have a great deal to add. Outside of those minimal issues, it’s well directed throughout, there’s a good amount of charm to it, which isn’t easy to build in stories with a harsh background and themes. One of the greatest things about it, which every filmmaker touches upon, is how heartfelt it feels. You can sense the dedication to the message in every short.

It also helps that it’s full of a superb group of actors, each of them all have something different to bring to the table but there are a couple who stand out. Particularly Clarence Ryan who is no small part as to why the film has such a charm, his performance is utterly enjoyable. He has a cheeky edge but at the same time there’s a huge amount of principle and pride to his character. Another is Tioreore Ngatai-Melbourne, appearing early on in the film and making a big impression. Walking that line of respect for her family but a desire for change and action is a classic theme and she executes it with a great deal of personality and strength.

We Are Still Here explores eight completely different short films which all come together perfectly to echo the same message. It highlights several lifetimes worth of struggle within just ninety minutes. It may have the odd weakness here and there but that doesn’t undermine how well put together it is. To see an anthology so succinctly and sincerely bring together its stories is fantastic. Blending them together created a wonderful interconnectivity and each of them all come back to the message of standing up for what’s right across every generation, as they each face their own struggle.

Verdict: ✯✯✯✯ | 8/10

Screening as part of WOW Film Festival 2023 on 3, 27 & 28 March

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