James Napier Robertson is a New Zealand screenwriter, film director and producer. The basis of his second feature film, The Dark Horse, is the real life of Genesis Potini, a Maori speed chess prodigy who suffered from severe bipolar disorder. After a premiering at Toronto and Rotterdam, and winning six New Zealand Film Awards, The Dark Horse receives its US theatrical release April 1 at the Angelika Film Center.
On the eve of its New York premiere, Filmatique conducted an exclusive interview with James Napier Robertson.
FILMATIQUE: The Dark Horse has often been hailed as one of the best New Zealand films ever made. What does it mean to you for the film to finally be released in New York? What has the journey been like?
JAMES NAPIER ROBERTSON: The journey has been long and intense! Many amazing countries and experiences. But New York represents a kind of creative bastion in many regards. Many of my favorite filmmakers are from NY. It’s a very proud moment for the film to screen there.
FLMTQ: One of the most interesting aspects of the film is how you’ve provided a lens into the marginalized, and often embattled, contemporary Maori existence. What are the main challenges you see facing Maori culture? What was it like to work with the Maori community to bring Genesis’s story to life?
JNR: I think a large degree of displacement and cultural disconnection happened in New Zealand when European settlers arrived and competed with the Maori for land. There are some concerning details of history, but the result was a culture that lost a sense of itself and became consumed by a larger more pervasive— and very different— culture. This sense of displacement is still being dealt with today.
My experience working with the Maori community to tell Gen’s story was wonderful. I had become very close with Genesis before he passed away, and also his immediate friends and family, including his wife, Nat, and the real Noble and Jedi. When we lost Gen, the community really stepped in and helped, and Nat, Noble and Jedi were on set with us every day while shooting to help make sure we were doing everything possible to portray Gen’s world authentically.