“So, is art important?” asks Waititi at his TED talk, “Well, no-one can really answer that, so moving on. Can art save the impoverished? Erm, no, no it can’t – unless it’s made of food.”
With the escalating rise of this great oddball, the world is starting to realise New Zealand has much more to offer to filmmaking than Peter Jackson’s walking tour. Waititi’s latest, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, has slowly been discovered since its local March release as one of the funniest and most original films all year. You could easily summarise it as a gangster fat kid and a grumpy old man going on the run in the New Zealand bush, hiding from a nationwide manhunt; but at the same time it’s a story about outcasts finding their place in the world and discovering it’s not something to hide from. Balancing this fine line between humour and heartbreak is Waititi’s style and perhaps it’s a reflection of the man himself; raised in an environment where you got one job and stuck with it for life, he’s tried painting, poetry, fashion, acting – and eventually writing and directing.
Filmmaking, he says, is an amalgam of all those things he’s interested in. It’s a tool to be creative; and creativity, he believes, should always be about fun.
A perfect example of this fine balancing act Waititi employs is after a tragic death in Wilderpeople; the immediate next scene is an uncertain priest (played by Waititi himself), struggling to make a eulogy about doors:
“What’s behind the door? You would think Jesus. I thought Jesus the first time I came across that door. It's not Jesus. It's another door. And guess what's on the other side of that door? Yeah, Jesus. He's tricky like that, Jesus”
Humour is a powerful tool for dealing with darkness and hard times. It works because it helps ease the pain and allow us to accept it and what we’re dealt with. You can find this on a more serious note in his 2010 Boy or more ridiculously in 2014’s What We Do In The Shadows: a mockumentary about vampires trying to live together in the 21st century, laying sheets over the sofas so as to not get blood everywhere when they bring victims round. Waititi’s style has lead him to an Oscar nomination, for his short film Two Cars, One Night. Oh, and Waititi famously pretended to be asleep during the Oscar ceremony. Of course.
Waititi admits that he doesn’t fully know who he is, what his work means, or if there is even a point. He claims his usual process before directing or writing a film is “1. Celebrate; 2. Freak Out; 3. Wing It”. But he believes perspective is important; that if he can get just a spark in someone from his work, inspiring someone, then he’ll be happy. In many ways, Thor: Ragnarok is the perfect next film for him – not because his increasing success should mean a Hollywood blockbuster is next up but because Thor is a ridiculous concept. We’ve already seen the short What Thor Did During Civil War, with Thor wrapping a blanket round his hammer or making Team Thor with his flatmate Dave. Waititi’s trademark is all over it. Who knows if there’s any point to it? What we do know is that if it’s Waititi as we know him, we’re bound to love it.