White Lies (2013): New Zealand Oscar Entry

WHITE LIES, from the award-winning producer of the Oscar-nominated Whale Rider John Barnett, is written and directed by Dana Rotberg (ANGEL DE FUEGO).

The film is based on the novella ‘Medicine Woman’ by Witi Ihimaera, also the author of the novel ‘Whale Rider’.

WHITE LIES tells the story of a medicine woman – a giver of life – who is asked to hide a secret which may protect one life, but which will destroy another.

Both feature films are based on literary works by acclaimed author Witi Ihimaera, but it was WHALE RIDER that inspired WHITE LIES director and writer Dana Rotberg to move half-way across the world from Mexico to New Zealand.

Prior to moving to New Zealand, Dana Rotberg has lived and worked as a writer, director and producer in Mexico, France, Bosnia and Herzegovina and has three times opened the Directors’ Fortnight at Cannes (ANGEL DE FUEGO/ANGEL OF FIRE; MGM SARAJEVEO: COVJEK, BOG, MONSTRUM and THE PERFECT CIRCLE).

It was leading New Zealand film and television producer John Barnett (WHALE RIDER, SIONE’S WEDDING, MIDDLE AGED SPREAD, BEYOND REASONABLE DOUBT) who introduced the story to Dana. John has produced or executive produced five of the top 10 highest grossing New Zealand films at the New Zealand box office.

WHITE LIES filmed on location in Ruatahuna and Te Urewera. Dana Rotberg had meticulously researched and gathered local advice on her characters, the practice of traditional healers and the language. John Barnett says, “Dana became involved in the community of the story – in the Tuhoe community and in the Ruatahuna community –and she made sure everything she did was done with their knowledge and their blessing.”

Dana Rotberg had written the script with specific actresses in mind, as the brilliant performances reveal: “I have three amazing women, all three of them absolutely different – as my characters are absolutely different. Each one of them, as human beings and actresses, brought different textures and perspectives and colour to the characters. I was enriched by them.”

This respect for tradition attracted New Zealand Maori recording artist Whirimako Black to her first feature role, playing Paraiti. “We’re often told that Maori is dying so for me to be able to present my language in an art form like this was a real privilege.”

White Lies is a story about the nature of identity: those who deny it and those who strive to protect it. Paraiti (Whirimako Black) is a medicine woman. She is the healer and midwife of her rural, tribal people – she believes in life. But new laws are in force prohibiting unlicensed healers.

On a rare trip to the city, she is approached by Maraea (Rachel House), the servant of a wealthy woman, Rebecca (Antonia Prebble), who seeks her knowledge and assistance in order to hide a secret which could destroy Rebecca’s position in European settler society.

If the secret is uncovered a life may be lost, but hiding it may also have fatal consequences.

So Paraiti, Maraea and Rebecca become players in a head-on clash of beliefs, deception and ultimate salvation.