Whale Rider

Poster for Whale Rider

Autumn 2003 Main series

Sunday, October 19, 2003 at 4:00pm
Sunday, October 19, 2003 at 7:00pm
Monday, October 20, 2003 at 7:00pm

Empire Theatres, New Minas, NS

Directed by


Rated PG · 1h 45m
New Zealand

An overwhelming audience favorite at the 2002 Toronto International Film Festival and the Sundance Film Festival, winning People’s Choice Awards at both festivals, Whale Rider is an extraordinarily beautiful cinematic experience. Inspiring, terrifically moving, uplifting and magical are all words that try to do justice in describing this breathtaking New Zealander film that has so utterly won over festival audiences. Set in contemporary times, on the east coast of New Zealand, the Whangara people – or Whangara iwi – live peacefully but in disquiet because of uncertainty about their future. They trace their history back a thousand years, to a single ancestor, Paikea, who escaped death when a whale took him to shore after his canoe had capsized. Throughout their known history, Whangara chiefs – always the first-born, always male – have been recognized as Paikea’s direct descendants. The tribe’s hope for a male heir to this lineage is dashed when the chief’s only son’s wife and baby boy die in childbirth, the only survivor being the baby boy’s female twin. The chief’s son flees New Zealand in grief, leaving grandparents Chief Koro and Nanny Flowers to raise Pai, the feisty little girl that nobody wanted. This captivating child radiates life energy, and with first-time actor Keisha Castle-Hughes in the role, she’s absolutely charismatic. It’s no wonder that her grandmother and the entire community love her, but alas, the grandfather she worships is too busy mourning the loss of the baby boy he expected would lead the tribe to better days. Chief Koro decides in desperation that he can wait no longer for another male heir and begins to train all the first born boys in the village in the Old ways, hoping to discover his people’s new leader. Meanwhile, young Pai, her ancestors stringing all the way back in unbroken lineage to the legendary whale rider, Paikea, will not be cast aside so easily. With striking landscapes and authentic performances from both people and whales, Caro manages to improve upon magic realism by offering realistic magic instead. With Castle-Hughes emitting a magnetic glow as Pai, everything is believable. Save the whales? That’s not enough: let the whales save us. The luminous Whale Rider is an uplifting coming-of-age fable that never cheats its audience, allowing viewers of all ages to rediscover innocence and wisdom, free of cynicism and doubt. Who decided the gods dwelled in the heavens and not in the seas, anyway?

Toronto International Film Festival, People’s Choice Award

Sundance Film Festival, Audience Award

“…Whale Rider seesaws between archetype and innocence – it’s a re-founding myth that happens in real time, before an audience’s wondering eyes.” – Ty Burr, The Boston Globe

“The genius of the movie is the way is sidesteps all of the obvious cliches of the underlying story and makes itself fresh, observant, tough and genuinely moving.” – Roger Ebert, The Chicago Sun-Times

“Despite their age difference – one so venerable, the other so callow – [Paratene and Castle-Hughes] both exude an intrinsic majesty that the camera adores.” – Rick Groen, The Globe And Mail

“An exquisitely crafted and enchanting film that tiptoes gently between stark family drama and magic realism.” – Barrett Hooper, The National Post