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 Monday, 13 January, 2003, 13:15 GMT
Cruise film hits Maori row
Tom Cruise is welcomed by the Te Huatahi Maoris
Cruise was given a traditional Maori welcome
Tom Cruise's latest project, The Last Samurai, has been hit by controversy after sections of the Maori community said sacred sites have been desecrated during filming.

Others claimed they should be paid compensation for the use of images of their sacred mountain, Mount Taranaki, which will feature in the film.

In tribal legend, Mount Taranaki is regarded as an ancestor of Maori who live in the region.

But the New Zealand film industry body is playing down any dispute, calling the row "a storm in a teacup".

Although the film is set in Japan the majority of scenes will be shot in New Zealand, including using Mount Taranaki on the west coast of the North Island as Mount Fujiyama.

The film will inject up to NZ $80m (27m) into the local and national economy, but some Maori groups say they deserve a bigger slice of the money.

The Parihaka community complained it had been assured Taranaki would not be used in the film, and believe they should gain financially from its use.

However, Maori spokesman Te Miringa Hohaia said some gesture, "not necessarily cash," needed to be made in recognition of their "special relationship" with Mount Taranaki.

Visiting tribes

Jane Gilbert, executive manager of Film NZ, said Warner Brothers had done all they could to prevent Maoris being offended.

Tom Cruise
Cruise has arrived in New Zealand to begin filming
Cruise was welcomed by Te Huatahi Maoris on his arrival in New Zealand, and it is thought he will visit more tribes during four months of filming.

A koha (donation) has been given to members of Ngati Mutunga tribe to bless sacred sites in north Taranaki, where much of the filming is being done.

Ms Gilbert said: "I think the people that are promoting this are taking advantage of the situation... and I don't see why this should have any impact on international productions coming to New Zealand."

Keith Manukonga, representative of the Nga Mahanga a Tiari iwi (tribe), accused the film-makers of developing land for a scene on the site of a real Maori battlefield and an area of sacred burial ground.

Creative venture

Film Venture Taranaki (FVT) said Warner Bros had worked closely with the local Maoris but Mr Manukonga said compensation should still be paid.

Ms Gilbert accused Mr Manukonga of "imposing his political views on what is a creative venture".

Wharehoka Wano, in charge of iwi liaison for FVT, has said that many Maoris in the region were benefiting from the film and compensation claims were unfounded.

A Maori spokesman for the Parihaka community said that while there needed to be recognition of the special relationship Maoris had with the mountain, the issue had been overstated.

The Last Samurai sees Cruise play a Civil War veteran- turned Winchester guns spokesman, who arrives in Japan in the late 1870s to train the troops of the emperor Meiji, and wipe out the last of the traditional warriors.

See also:

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