Private Project

Tupaia's Endeavour

Tupaia: the central character for Māori; a side-lined extra to the British.

When James Cook, captain of British Navy ship Endeavour, took his first steps on the un-colonised shores of 1769 Aotearoa/New Zealand, he set in train a violent collision with our ancestors, the people of the land.

This first meeting between Māori and Europeans would have ended disastrously for Cook and his crew. But it didn't. Why? Because of Tupaia, a Polynesian who had joined the Endeavour expedition in Tahiti.

Who was this high-priest, this star-navigator, this extraordinary artist? His huge contribution to the Endeavour journey was left out of European history books, yet 250 years later his imprint lives on.

New Zealand born artist Michel Tuffery (of Samoan, Rarotongan and Tahitian heritage) and Māori actor Kirk Torrance retrace the footsteps of Tupaia in true Polynesian style.

Under the gaze of their ancestors, with song, haka (ceremonial challenge) and humour, they make startling new discoveries that will rewrite history, cementing Tupaia’s role as a central figure of the modern Pacific renaissance.

In drawing Tupaia from the shadows of history, they address the grief and pain left in Cook’s wake, cast light on hidden treasures and uncover real magic.

Reviewers say:
“Essential viewing,” “mind-blowing,” and “a great example of how oral history works on both an indigenous and tertiary level” (RNZ’s Dan Slevin; Gisborne Herald’s Mark Peters;’s Liam Maguren).

This powerful documentary offers a “banquet of mind food” and “tremendous new insights” into a neglected period of history which is only becoming more relevant (Radio 13’s Clare Martin;’s Liam Maguren).

  • Lala Rolls
    Feature documentaries: Children of the Migration, Land of My Ancestors. Short Film: Fish Out of Water, and many other works - see biography
  • Lala Rolls
  • Lala Rolls
  • Grant and Bryce Campbell
    Documentaries: Cinema of Unease, A Personal journey by Sam Neil; The Shadow of Vietnam. Short Films: Dirty Creature; Lounge Bar.
  • Jan Bieringa
    Documentaries: Te Hono ki Aotearoa; The Man in the Hat
  • Nicola Olsen
    Documentaries: The Heart Dances; Rain of the Children Drama: Water Giant; Cast Away
  • Kirk Torrance
    Key Cast
    The Deadlands TV Series, The New Legends of Monkey, The Dark Horse, Stickmen, Xena Warrior Princess, Outrageous Fortune,
  • Michel Tuffery
    Key Cast
    Artist (
  • Project Type:
    Documentary, Feature
  • Genres:
    Historical, indigenous, Pacific voyaging
  • Runtime:
    1 hour 58 minutes 56 seconds
  • Completion Date:
    September 1, 2019
  • Production Budget:
    670,749 NZD
  • Country of Origin:
    New Zealand
  • Country of Filming:
    French Polynesia, New Zealand, United Kingdom
  • Language:
    English, French, Maori
  • Shooting Format:
    HD 2k Digital various cameras
  • Aspect Ratio:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
  • New Zealand International Film Festival
    New Zealand
    July 25, 2020
    NZ Premiere (World premiere)
    Chosen as one of the top 12 films o fthe Festival. Extended screenings, sold out houses
  • Hawaii International Film Festival
    November 5, 2020
    North American
  • Wairoa Maori Film Festival
    New Zealand
    October 26, 2020
Director Biography - Lala Rolls

Lala Rolls, New Zealand based director/editor/producer

Biography September 2019

I am the founding director of film production company, Island Productions Aotearoa and I have joined with fellow filmmakers, artists and philanthropists to create a media trust, Major Arc, to tell ‘real good stories’. I am committed to using the power of the moving image to contribute towards positive social change.

As a film director I have a strong leaning towards Pacific and Māori stories. Although of Dutch/English origin, I was born and raised in Fiji. The Pacific is very much in my heart. It is my identity. It is where I am from.

I left Fiji for Aotearoa / New Zealand at the age of 17 to complete my last year of high school in 1982. I have a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from Victoria University of Wellington and discovered film studies in my last two years at university and I went on to take script writing and practical courses in film in New Zealand and the UK.

I made my first short film, OLIVES, in 1994, during which time I met Jamie Selkirk (editor/co- producer LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy). Through that meeting I became a trainee assistant editor on Selkirk's next film JACK BROWN GENIUS and began my professional career.

My work as an editor, director and producer encompasses TV drama, feature documentary, social/educational resources, short films and music videos. I have been a multiple finalist at the New Zealand Screen Awards for editing documentaries and drama, including the ensemble television drama The INSIDER’S GUIDE TO HAPPINESS, and the documentaries LOVELY RITA and FLIGHT OF THE CONCHORDS: A TEXAN ODYSSEY. I also edited the acclaimed feature documentaries, THE MAN IN THE HAT and TE HONO KI AOTEAROA for Jan and Luit Bieringa.

As a director I have had special-mention awards and international success with the feature documentaries CHILDREN OF THE MIGRATION and LAND OF MY ANCESTORS - DARCY NICHOLAS, ARTIST. My short films have screened at multiple festivals worldwide (see filmography below).

My most recent editing work was the feature film CELIA with director Amanda Millar, 2018. The film sold out at every screening at the NZ International Film Festival. It is currently screening in cinemas nationwide and has been receiving rave reviews.

From 2018 to 2020 I extended my film work to teaching, taking a position as a teaching fellow at Victoria University, running the documentary production courses, Film311 and Film210.

Current Work
I am directing a planetarium 'dome projection' film. An educational drama about Pacific and European navigation told through the eyes of a teenage Māori girl.

I recently completed the long-term project, TUPAIA'S ENDEAVOUR, about Tupaia, the Tahitian who ensured Lt James Cook's success in the Pacific. The project started in 2006 with a bid alongside collaborator Michel Tuffery for funding to create a film where, through Tupaia, we could address first contact from a Pacific and Māori perspective. Finally, in 2011 the project was awarded funds by Māori Television and New Zealand On Air for a 52min television documentary. The story is too big for a TV episode and our dream was always to make a cinematic feature film. So between 2011 and 2019 we ran a stop/start shooting schedule, fundraising in between and undertaking each shoot with new funds in hand. Other funders who came on board include Te Māngai Pāho, The Commonwealth Broadcasting Association, UK and French Polynesian film funds. To honour our agreements with these funders we have made various special short form versions to serve communities and education.
These are:
• A three part mini-series for Māori Television, New Zealand. This local version was specially made to serve the story of the Māori people who engaged directly with Cook and Tupaia.
• A truncated taste of the story in a 52-minute French language television story, TUPAIA. This was to serve French Polynesian television and to travel to schools and island communities. It also screened at their FIFO Film Festival, winning a jury prize.
• The Te Ha Cut which was to record and archive stories for our participants in Tūranganui ā Kiwa, on the East coast of New Zealand's North Island.

Finally, in 2019 we won a grant from the New Zealand Lottery fund through the Ministry of Culture and Heritage to make our long-awaited cinematic feature film. And it turns out it was exactly right it should take this long. All the delays and the sharing of versions with local communities has brought a wealth of new knowledge and information to us. The film is more than just a film. It is a presentation of oral history, art and culture that goes way beyond hat we ever hoped for. The film went to print in the first week of September 2019. We are now poised on international release and can't wait to present this story to the world.
Links to my work can be seen here
Director Filmography (a shortened overview)

• OLIVES – short film, 1994. Director. (Funded by Creative New Zealand). 1994 NZ International Film Festival; 1995 Mill Valley Film Festival, USA.
• TALL STORIES – short film, 1997. Director/Producer. (Self-funded). 1997 NZ International Film Festival; included in short film compilation RADs and distributed in worldwide.
• MUSIC VIDEOS for Mangrove Productions New Caledonia, 1998 – 2001. Director. (funded by Mangrove Productions). Shot in New Caledonia, Rapa Nui/Easter Island, and Fiji. Screened on television throughout the Pacific.
• CHILDREN OF THE MIGRATION – feature documentary, 2004. Director/Co- editor/Writer. (Funded by TVNZ and NZOA). 2007 - won Special Mention Prize - DocNZ, 2005 NZ International Film Festival; 2006 FIFO, Tahiti; 2006 Real Life on Film Festival; Melbourne, 2007 Fanua/Whenua Polynesian Arts Festival. Screened repeatedly on TVNZ, Maori Television, the Documentary Channel NZ, and ABC Australia. Picked up as an educational tool by tertiary institutions and government departments throughout NZ and Australia.
• FISH OUT OF WATER – short film, 2005/2006. Director/Editor. (Funded by NZ Film commission). 2006 won Best Short Film – Wet West Film Festival, New Zealand, 2005 Uppsala International Film Festival; Sweden, 2006 Newport Beach Film Festival, USA; 2006 Reflections on Water – Cineworks Independent Filmmakers Society, USA; 2006 Mill Valley Film Festival, USA; 2006 Hamptons International Film Festival, USA; 2006 Magma Short Film Festival, New Zealand; 2006 Regensburg Short Film Week – Regensburger Kurzfilmwoche, Germany; 2007 In The Bin Film Festival, Australia; 2007 Vilnius Film Festival KINO PAVASARIS, Lithuania; 2007 WIFT International Short Film Showcase Celebrating International Women’s Day; 2008 NZ Film Festival Wroclaw, Poland; 2009 Tel Aviv New Zealand Retrospective, Israel.
• LAND OF MY ANCESTORS – feature documentary, 2006/2007. Director/Co-producer/Editor. (Funded by MTS and TMP)2007 NZ International Film Festival; 2008 London Independent Film Festival; 2009 Fanua/Whenua Polynesian Arts Festival; 2009 World Indigenous Broadcasting Network – worldwide television screenings; Maori Television - repeated screenings.
• IHIMAERA – television documentary, 2011. Director/Editor. (Funded by MTS and NZOA). Created for Charlotte Yates Productions and Maori Television.
• ALZHEIMER'S AD. CAMPAIGN, 2012. Director. (Funded by Alzheimer's NZ) - television commercial for Double Fish and Alzheimer's NZ.
• OTHER WORKS - Television magazine documentary series educational videos, museum pieces and many specially commissioned works. Director/Editor. Including TUWHARE and QTV . These smaller works were funded by TVNZ, the NZ International Arts Festival, Toi Maori Aotearoa, The American Embassy, NZ, Puke Ariki Museum, Taranaki and various Government Departments

Add Director Biography
Director Statement

An eight year journey
This film was shot over 8 years. We started filming in 2011 after gaining initial funding from Māori Television and New Zealand on Air. They had commissioned a single 52 minute television documentary, but for us the story was always bigger than that. So between 2011 and 2019 we ran a stop/start shooting schedule, fundraising in between and undertaking each shoot with new funds in hand. Other financial supporters came to include Te Māngai Pāho and Te Ha Trust (both Māori special interest funders), the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association, UK and French Polynesian cultural funds. To honour our agreements with these funders we have made various special short form versions of the project along the way. These have been to serve local television, local communities and provide educational clips and oral history archives. Finally, in November 2018 we won a grant from the New Zealand Lottery Fund through the Ministry of Culture and Heritage to make our long-awaited cinema feature film.

It turns out it was exactly right that it should take this long. All the delays and the sharing of versions with local communities has drawn a wealth of new knowledge and information to us. The film is more than just a film. It is a presentation of oral history, art and culture that goes way beyond what we ever hoped for.

The vision
In 2006, artist Michel Tuffery and I had both (separately and without each other’s knowledge) read Dame Anne Salmond's book The Trial of the Cannibal Dog. We had both noticed Tupaia slipping in-between the lines of this story about Lt. James Cook in the Pacific. And when we bumped into each other at our local cafe we said, almost in unison, "Hey, have you read Trial of the Cannibal Dog? ... What about Tupaia! ... How come we have never heard of him? ... We've got to make a film."

Although it would take four years of research, development and proposal writing to win starting funds, there were two things I knew for sure:

The first was that I must make this film together with Tuffery, using his art as way to paint the picture as we went. The second was that Kirk Torrance should play Tupaia.

Why Kirk? Because not only is he Ngāti Kahungunu - a Māori tribe that has a strong ancestral connection with Tupaia's people, not only was he about the same age as Tupaia, but also – as a past New Zealand representative swimmer, he swims like a dolphin.

As a child of the Pacific I am always happiest in the sea. Diving down to the cool deep, at peace in the silence and grace of the swim, hearing the moment when you surface back up into the babble and weight of human life.

When I thought of Tupaia (and of the moments of loneliness and dis-empowerment he may have felt at times on that European boat captained by Cook) I thought of how at home Tupaia would have been in the sea. I thought, perhaps like me when I return home to Fiji, when he needed to return to himself he would dive deep down and leave the European babble behind him. And so the swimming sequences became the motif for Tupaia's internal and spiritual world.

Basically, I wanted to take the audience into the Pacific that I know. Which meant taking them with us on the same personal journey that we had to take in order to tell this story with authenticity. We knew we should take the time to listen to people, that we should share food with the people we interview and engage in rituals and offer the proper incantations on sacred ancestral sites. We knew that we should try to imagine Tupaia by living parts of his journey.

I was also interested in keeping our storytelling rigorous with the leadership of Dame Anne Salmond a distinguished Professor of Māori Studies and Anthropology and Professor Paul Tapsell, whose specialty is in Māori artefacts and their 'life' in museums. Their professional voices are as heartfelt and vivid as the oral histories told by the descendants of Tupaia and the Māori he encountered.

We were making a big film with very little funding, but a lot of heart. I wanted to share that with the audience too. I wanted them to see the gentleness between the men as they drew felt-tipped pen moko (face tattoos) on each other before the warriors’ haka (ceremonial challenge).

I wanted the audience to know that we were not telling our haka warriors how to do anything. We shared the story with them and invited them to interpret it as they saw fit. This added a whole other layer to the film. For example, the man who plays Te Maro (the first man Cook's crew shot in Aotearoa New Zealand) is in fact a descendant of Te Maro. His brother and nephew play his attendants. They are reliving their ancestor’s pain and finding healing in honouring his name. This kind of depth of involvement runs through the whole film.

We are all so proud of how we have handled this flimic journey and we believe that allowing the story to unfold like this gave us the special magic of discovering momentous truths totally out of the blue and on camera as we went. We are now poised for international release and can't wait to present this story to the world.