Ruamata: It’s More Than Hockey is about a little kura kaupapa Māori based in Rotorua taking on some of the biggest private schools in the country.

It’s the first hour-long sports documentary fully in te reo Māori with English subtitles.

The doco follows the journey of te kura kaupapa Māori o Ruamata — the first kura kaupapa Māori in 100 years to qualify for the most prestigious secondary school hockey tournament in New Zealand, the Rankin Cup.

The documentary followed the kura kaupapa through preseason, the regular season and then, eventually, the Rankin Cup.

Re: News spoke to the director and co-producer Kereama Wright (Te Arawa, Ngā Ruahinerangi) about what it was like capturing the team’s story and also what it was like being a hockey dad of one of the players.

What pushed you to make this doco?

Firstly, I must thank Te Māngai Paho for giving us the pūtea (money) and believing in this project. Also to RNZ for taking this project on. We wanted this project to be on a platform like RNZ because it’s the first te reo Māori sports documentary made in Aotearoa.

We wanted to make a point: it’s not just about hockey, it’s not just about Ruamata, but it’s actually about the normalisation of te ao Māori in the media landscape.

I wanted our story to be told by us and for mainstream audiences.

For a feature-length documentary, a one-hour documentary, all in te reo Māori to be taken on by the likes of RNZ for me was huge.

For me, that was one of the greatest successes is the normalisation of te reo Māori.

What was it like for you to capture the journey of te kura kaupapa Māori o Ruamata as they competed in the Rankin Cup?

It was a project close to my heart because as an alumnus of the kura and as a former player it was a special journey for me.

It was important for me to capture and share the essence of kura kaupapa Māori and the journey that a lot of small Māori schools have to go through.

The challenges in terms of lack of resources, lack of players to choose from, to compete at the highest level.

Coach Tenga Rangitauira.

We’re talking about a school that has 200 students from year one to year 13. So you have about 32 secondary school boys to choose from.

How hard is it to get to the Rankin Cup?

For a kapa (team), to qualify for the Rankin Cup, they first have to win a tier four tournament, then they have to win a tier three tournament. And then once they win the tier three tournament they qualify for the Rankin Cup.

So this was a journey five years in the making for coach Tenga Rangitauira, but it was a 25-year journey for the kura.

What do you hope the audience will take away from watching Ruamata: It’s more than just hockey?

The reason we decided to make the doco was to inspire and empower other small schools to follow their desires and their dreams and no matter what, don’t let lack of resources be a barrier.

This is a blueprint for any indigenous school or high school to follow.

Te reo Māori is not a barrier, culture isn’t a barrier. Being Māori is an X factor and I hope that’s the wairua that people feel when they watch it.

It’s definitely an emotional rollercoaster, you see the high of the boys reaching the Rankin Cup and the challenges they face during the tournament.

What was one of the biggest challenges this kura had to face?

Through their journey, they’ve had to overcome a lot of discrimination.

The documentary talks about how the school uses hockey as a form of spreading and normalising te reo Māori in the community.

You hear te reo Māori being spoken on the field, you hear te reo Māori being spoken on the sideline.

Sometimes it didn’t sit well with some of our hockey community. So throughout the documentary, you’ll hear stories of some of the boys being carded for speaking Māori on the turf.

Kereama Wright’s son, Manawapōhatu McGarvey-Borell.

Some hockey administrators or hockey managers have actually approached some associations to ban the use of te reo Māori on the field and around the field because the other teams couldn’t understand it.

That’s the other reason why we decided to do this documentary, was also to normalise it in the hockey community and to try and change some of the negative connotations and negative perceptions that some of our whānau in the hockey community have, not only towards te kura kaupapa Māori o Ruamata, but the use of te reo Māori on the field.

You’re the director and co-producer but more importantly, you’re a hockey pāpā (dad), what was it like watching your son make history for Ruamata?

It was very difficult for me as the director and the father of one of the boys.

If you go to a Ruamata game you’ll see that the parents are very passionate, very engaged and very boisterous on the sideline, we all think we’re the coach and the referee.

So it was difficult for me to contain both my excitement and my frustration at times. So it was a very good opportunity for me as well.