Growing up in a rural Māori community set in a stunning landscape, an 11-year-old everyone simply calls Boy is not experiencing the seamless start to life you would wish for such a great kid. Having already lost his mother five years earlier, he lives with his grandmother and little brother Rocky, and helps look out for a posse of kids. His father is out of the picture, but this doesn’t stop Boy from constantly telling Walter Mitty tales about his dad’s prowess, all the while erratically navigating his smalltown world, with its school bullies and sweethearts.

Boy’s father Alamein shows up one day, together with his unprepossessing two-man gang, planning to dig up criminal proceeds buried somewhere in the vicinity. Although not quite ready to be a father to his two boys, he does go all out to amuse them while he’s around. They love him all the more for it, even if it does begin to dawn on Boy just what sort of a man he actually is, especially when mayhem ensues. Boy then manages to create even greater havoc trying to set things right.

Simply sweet is an apt description of a lot of Waititi’s work as writer and director. Maybe not his ventures into superhero territory with his two Thor movies for Marvel, but even his vampires (What We Do in the Shadows) and pirates (Our Flag Means Death) are endearing. His tongue-in-cheek, laidback humour is marvellous, whether captured in the subtlety of a child’s glance in Two Cars, One Night (his Oscar-nominated short which launched his cinematic career), or in an over-the-top car chase in Hunt for the Wilderpeople. He is also a prolific actor and has shot countless very amusing commercials and a number of music videos.

Waititi’s mother is of European Jewish descent, his father Māori, with his own sensibility leaning heavily towards indigenous, as reflected in his Reservation Dogs series and in other work. Although Waititi mainly grew up with his mother, he was raised in the town where he shot Boy. He incorporated all sorts of memories in his tale of a deadbeat dad and starry-eyed son passionate about Michael Jackson’s dance moves and the young school diva.

The Te Tumu Whakaata Taonga (New Zealand Film Commission) already helped bring the work of Jane Campion, Peter Jackson and Lee Tamahori to Dutch cinemas. VERA Zienema would like to thank them for making this screening of an early bittersweet masterpiece of another member of the New Zealand film pantheon possible.

– david