New Zealand


Director/Screenplay: Barry Barclay

Production co: He Taonga Films

Producer: Ruth Kaupua-Panapa

Cinematography: Michael O’Connor

Editor: Bella Erikson

Production designer: Guy Moana

Sound: Dick Reade

82 mins

35mm/In English, Maori and Moriori with English subtitles

Available to Film Socities from Mar 1 2003


Press Materials


“The sober intelligence of Barry Barclay’s gripping film about the Chatham Islands Moriori is the most unmistakable sign of a vital New Zealand feature film culture in the new millennium. In a year remarkable for the richness and sophistication of non-fiction films internationally, it’s pleasing that one of the finest applies itself to a hotly contested saga in our own history.


“Fashioned as a ‘fake’ documentary about real events, The Feathers of Peace tells its tale of the past in the present tense. British sailors and settlers, Maori invaders, New Zealand officials and Moriori face the camera, explain themselves and recount their ‘recent’ experiences. A peaceable race is injured by explorers, brought to its knees by rapacious, dispossessed neighbours, and then betrayed by a foreign legal system that favours conquerors. Barclay discerns the tragic inevitability in the shape of this history, but his tragedy is studded with startling facts and makes every point of view vividly human, alive in the here and know.”— Bill Gosden, New Zealand Film Festival 2000


“On November 29, 1791, His Brittanick Majesty’s brig Chatham, en route from New Zealand to Tahiti, was blown off course in a storm and fetched up at a small group of islands at latitude 44 deg south, more than 500 miles east of the land of the Maori. Like many of the landfalls of early European explorers, the first contact between islanders and sailors was not a happy experience. By the time the ship pushed on to the north, one of the natives had died in the

Production Synopsis


The Feathers of Peace is a dramatised documentary on the history of Moriori. The script is epic in scope, spanning two hundred years and calling for over thirty speaking roles. The production itself though is low key and low budget. This is made possible because the script is built on the outrageous premise that there was a news crew on the spot over the whole two hundred year period ; filming major events, interviewing people while it was all happening around them. All the speaking roles are of historical characters talking to an off screen interviewer. Grand and all as this sounds, from a production point of view, the actual filming will be a very small affair, because it will be shot a la news coverage, with minimal crew. 95% of the shooting will be done on Te Mahurihuri marae, three days only will be done on other locations.

shallows, felled by a musket fired more in fear than anger.

“The dead man was part of a race which called itself Moriori, a Polynesian people whose language and culture was related to but quite distinct from, that of the Maori (their word for ‘tangata whenua’ is transcribed as ‘tchakat henu’). Peaceable, indeed pacifist, by nature and ancient edict they were unprepared for the next danger that came over the sea.

“Barry Barclay, director of the lyrical Ngati and the raw and passionately political Te Rua makes the 1835 invasion of Rekohu (the Chatham Islands) by Taranaki Maori and the subsequent systematic massacre of the Moriori seem like events torn from the headlines.

“Combining the quasi-newsreel documentary technique of Peter Watkin’s groundbreaking Culloden with the use of still photography to present history as photojournalism (and making sparing and effective use of modern island landscapes), Barclay uses film as a way of interrogating the past and illuminating the present. Incidentally and usefully he reminds us of how reactionary ideology has nurtured the fiction that the Moriori were the aboriginal inhabitants of Aotearoa.

“Though relying heavily on Michael King’s 1989 work Moriori: A People Rediscovered, this is much more than a film of the book. Intelligent, dramatic, intensely absorbing, it’s a memorable and distinctive addition to the history of the islands at the end of the earth.” — Peter Calder, NZ Herald


“The Film Commission promotes Barry Barclay’s Feathers of Peace with the line ‘The Chathams—New Zealand’s Kosovo?’ That sounds like a hard-sell, that this rigorous, very moral documentary doesn’t need. Heavily reliant on Michael King’s Moriori: A People Rediscovered, attentive equally to dramatic potential and historical authenticity, Feathers of Peace examines sucessive flashpoints on the Chathams: European contact in 1791, the commingling of settlers and Moriori, an invasion by Maori in 1835, the Crown’s subsequent division of the land.


“This is unmistakably a tragedy - the peaceful philosophy of the Moriori became a hopeless abstraction against the realities of invasion—but Barclay’s tone is less angry than sombre and meditative, as he divides the film into four chapters with Old Testament overtones. ‘The Running Man’, ‘A Time for Planting’, ‘A Purchase of Horses’, ‘A Balance of Justice’. Some may be thrown by the peroid reconstructions, but we are assured that almost every word comes from the historical record.” — Philip Matthews, The Listener


“Of all the dramatic images in Barry Barclay’s dramatised documentary The Feathers of Peace, there’s one in particular that’s hard to forget.


“Human skulls can be clearly seen sticking out between a  stretch of tussock and sand. The slightly grainy look of the film and shaky camera makes it eerily similar to news footage of Pol Pot’s atrocities in Cambodia. But instead it’s the 19th century and the scene is a Chatham Island beach.


“Barclay’s $300,000 documentary... deliberately uses modern TV news techniques, along with photographs which could have come from newspapers, to tell the story of the destruction of the Moriori on the Chatham Islands from 1791 to the 1870s.


“Moriori, Maori and pakeha, including actors playing some of the main historical figures, are interviewed to camera as if newsreel and TV news crews had discovered time machines and were there as events happened . There are several shots of the Chatham Islands landscape today, but most of the filming

was staged in New Zealand. It begins in very grainy black and white, and progresses to sepia and colour to give the impression of events being filmed at different times.


“The film opens in 1791 with the accidental arrival of the Royal Navy Brig Chatham. The crew clashes with about 40 Moriori. A Moriori man is shot and injured by the retreating crew.


“The film’s title refers to white feathers Moriori men wore in their beards to show they were peaceful after their chief Nunuku vowed never to take up arms against another human being. In the film Riwai, a Moriori spokesman, explains their philosophy.


“In the early 1800s some Moriori die from diseases introduced by a small number of European settlers. By 1835 two northern Taranaki tribes, Ngati Tama and Ngati Mutunga, invade. About 1000 Moriori adults and countless children are killed, others enslaved.


“By the 1870s most Ngati Tama and Ngati Mutunga return to Taranaki and lease their Chatham lands to pakeha farmers. The last 100 Moriori go to the Native Land Court in the hope of sharing their land with Maori.


“Barclay, whose iwi is Ngati Apa, said he got the idea for the film about eight years ago after reading Michael King’s book Moriori. Until then the former Wellington film maker, best known for the features Ngati in 1985 and Te Rua in 1991, knew little about them. He was more familiar with the myth that Moriori had lived in New Zealand and were conquered by Maori before Europeans arrived.


“‘I was astonished at the story. The next bolt out of the blue was ‘this must be turned into a film’. But how to find a format? That came some time later when I thought why not interview the people.’


“The idea wasn’t original, and was first used in the ground-breaking British documentary Culloden in the 1960s. Barclay said he was a huge fan of filmmaker Peter Watkins who made Culloden, not only because of the style but how it detailed a historical event.


“One of the most important points was accuracy. All the events and what people say in the film were based on contemporary documents and in King’s book, he said.


“So what impact does Barclay hope from the film?


“Barclay said he had passionate views on what happened and for New Zealanders to know, but people will make up their own minds. ‘It’s for other people to untangle. People will see what they want or need to see. That’s how I’d like to see the film viewed.’” — Tom Cardy, Evening Post