Taika Waititi was born in Wellington in 1975. In the interceding years, he has helmed outstanding works across film, television, and Twitter, obtained a heaping helping of acclaim throughout three continents out of the possible seven, and this very year, has been dubbed the #1 person from his country of birth.
Waititi, raised by an artist and a school teacher on the East Coast of New Zealand, first heard the clarion call of performing arts in his high school drama class. As such, he attended Victoria University in pursuit of a degree in Theatre and Film, during which time he was one-fifth of the comedy ensemble So You’re a Man, which toured across Australia and New Zealand. He also acted as one-half of The Humourbeasts along Jemaine Clement, earning New Zealand’s highest comedy accolade, the Billy T Award, in 1999. One year later, after a smattering of performances in film and television, Taika found himself nominated for a NZ Film Award for Best Actor after his performance in Scarfies.
Already a modestly acclaimed young performer with a hunger to make “[his] own stories,” Waititi gave behind-the-camera work a spin, writing and directing short films for New Zealand’s 48-hour film contest, earning an Academy Award nomination for his 2005 short Two Cars, One Night. His short Tama Tū, a portrait of soldiers from the Māori Battalion during World War II, was invited to more than 40 festivals, picking up prizes at ten. Continuing on the indie film track, Taika wrote and directed his first feature film, Eagle vs Shark (2007), which saw theatrical release in the US. He continued to direct and perform in Boy (2010), as well as the vampire mockumentary What We Do In The Shadows (2014), alongside fellow Humourbeast Jemaine Clement. His fourth feature, adventure-comedy Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016), received a standing ovation at Sundance and broke domestic records in New Zealand upon its release.
Above all, what keeps Waititi’s work so immensely magnetic is his dogged interest in giving the viewer a fun experience. “I think it’s important to entertain people.” He declared in an interview with Stuff.Co.Nz. “People breathe a collective sigh of relief when it’s not harrowing.” That isn’t to say he partakes in light, fluffy fare either. In an interview with Splinter, he said, “My films aren’t even like broad comedies. My films are sad situations with jokes […] It’s okay to mix up the weird stuff.” If his work is anything to go by, this mixture is beyond okay.
Recently, Taika was named 2017 New Zealander of the Year, for his outstanding contributions to the world of film. Chief Judge Cameron Bennett said of Waititi’s award, “His films represent the importance of whanau, of belonging and the challenges facing youth at the margins of society.” In his interview with Splinter, he discussed his adoration for outsiders: “I very much sort of sympathize and empathize [with] underdogs and people that live on the margins, the ones who are just shoved off to the side. They’re the big heroes to me.”
His first studio film, Thor: Ragnarok (2017), saw its release in late October, to great reviews (many of whom are keen to mention the entertainment factor).
It’s quite easy to see that Taika Waititi has a talent for telling stories well. And if there is one morsel of wisdom any young and burgeoning filmmaker is to learn from the exceptional Mr. Waititi, it is to find what interests you, pursue it wholeheartedly, and if at all possible, make it funny.