Hunt for the Wilderpeople director Taika Waititi has taken out one of the country’s top honours, being named New Zealander of the Year for 2017 by Kiwibank.
The Kiwi filmmaker has had plenty to keep him busy this past year, with Wilderpeople debuting to critical and box office success and his current project – Thor: Ragnarok - getting plenty of Marvel fans excited.
In taking out the prestigious honour, Taika beat out fellow finalists Professor Mere Berryman, an educator and researcher, and Major Campbell Roberts, Principal Advisor for the Salvation Army’s Social Policy & Parliamentary Unit.
While his work commitments in Los Angeles meant Taika couldn’t receive the award in person, his wife Chelsea Winstanley collected the gong on his behalf from Prime Minister Bill English. Hunt for the Wilderpeople star Julian Dennison accompanied Chelsea as she also received the Kiwibank kaitaka huaki cloak, Pouhine, from last year’s New Zealander of the Year Richie McCaw.
Chief Judge Cameron Bennett says Taika “is an exciting and inspiring example of who and what we are as Kiwis. Creative, courageous, audacious, subversive and downright funny, he’s at the forefront of New Zealand filmmaking and the arts.”
“His films represent the importance of whanau, of belonging and the challenges facing youth at the margins of society.
“He’s a special talent, a huge inspiration for young, up-and-coming film directors and producers and a thoroughly worthy recipient of this year’s supreme award.”
This is the eighth time the New Zealander of the Year Awards have been handed out, with 375 nominations being received for the 2017 title.
Taika follows in the footsteps of previous New Zealander of the Year winners including Richie McCaw (2016), Sir Stephen Tindall (2015), Dr Lance O’Sullivan (2014), Dame Anne Salmond (2013) and Sir Richard Taylor (2012).