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Tuesday, 4 December, 2001, 10:55 GMT
Shakespeare goes Maori
Shakespeare's use of language was similar to ancient Maori
Shakespeare's use of language was similar to Maori
The Merchant of Venice has been turned into the first Maori-language film of a Shakespeare play.

The film, which has just had its first preview screening, will be released in New Zealand in February.

It is the first film project for all but one of the 400 actors. Some of the crew have been specially trained after being unemployed or in trouble with the law.

The finished movie is already attracting interest from film festivals around the world and has been subtitled for English, Spanish and Italian audiences.

Director Don Selwyn has stayed faithful to many aspects of the Bard's settings and story.

Shakespeare wrote the play between 1596 and 1598
Shakespeare wrote the play between 1596 and 1598
It took him 10 years to convince the "gatekeepers of the drama industry" - including a special commission set up to fund Maori productions - that it was worth the time and money.

"I can understand why these people didn't think it would work because they'd have a narrow focus on what a Maori Shakespeare would be about," Selwyn says.

"But its [Maori content] has a much more lateral presence. The film is a catalyst and vehicle for Kiwi talent."

Shot around Auckland, the film recreates 16th century Venice, with costumes and surroundings to fit the original setting.

The only way it has been changed for its new language is the fact that the play's fictional town of Belmont has been moved to New Zealand.

But there are none of the stereotypical things that outsiders usually associate with Maoris, such as tattoos or fierce dances.

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Selwyn's cast and crew were almost all Maoris, and in some cases Selwyn asked judges for young law-breakers to be given a chance to work on the project.

"Now these people are working on other film projects," he says. "They've learned production procedures and have an understanding of the arts."

Selwyn has previously run a film school for Maori students and produced television dramas in Maori.

The film was shot around Auckland
The film was shot around Auckland
The Merchant of Venice was translated into Maori - an official language on New Zealand alongside English - in 1945.

Shakespeare's use of language was not dissimilar to the ancient poetic, lyrical and metaphorical Maori style, according to Scott Morrison, Maori Studies lecturer at Massey University, who also plays Antonio in the film.

"It captures the essence of how Maori language would have been spoken before the arrival of Europeans," he said.

Selwyn said: "One of the reasons we've done this is that we value Maori language as our indigenous language. Even in classic art form it has relevance."

See also:

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A comedy of errors
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