June 6, 2003
Set in modern day New Zealand, Whale Rider tells the story of 12-year old Pai, and her grandfather Koro, who is the chief of Pai's Whangara tribe. The tribe is falling apart. The youth are moving away, or turning to crime, or just aren't interested in the colorful history of the tribe. The title refers to a legendary chief from long ago who rode a whale to bring his people to their land. Now, the tribe needs a new leader, but the chief must be a first-born male. The film opens with Koro's son losing his wife giving birth to twins. The male twin also dies, but the girl, Pai, lives. Flash ahead 11 years, and the plot revolves around Koro and Pai, and Koro's frustration that Pai was not born male. Koro must still find a chief, and turns to the community for first-born males, training them in the ways of the old leaders. Pai, because of her gender, cannot attend the training, and becomes alienated from Koro, as she does not understand why gender-bias should play into it. Whale Rider is like a mirror image of The Matrix; this time there is universal knowledge from the audience as to who The One is, but in this film, the leader doesn't see it.
Whale Rider is from Newmarket Films, distributor of 2000's Memento and 2001's Donnie Darko. Newmarket has found great success in picking up these small festival films, and turning them into word of mouth hits. Whale Rider should be no different; it is such a good movie that success will be found either in theatres or on home video.
The film started playing limited release on June 6, 2003 and expanded to 163 screens on June 27, grossing $1 million over that weekend. The beautifully shot, award winning film has a budget of $4.3 million, and it is my hope that the investment is returned ten-fold.
Comparison films for Whale Rider
|Lion King, The
|Horse Whisperer, The