Almighty Johnsons

South Pacific Pictures

Whale Rider
101 minute feature film

In a small New Zealand coastal village, Maori claim descent from Paikea, the Whale Rider. In every generation for over 1,000 years, a male heir born to the Chief succeeds to the title. The time is now. The Chief's eldest son, Porourangi, fathers twins - a boy and a girl. But the boy and his mother die in childbirth. The surviving girl is named Pai. Grief-stricken, her father leaves her to be raised by her grandparents. Koro, (the Chief) refuses to acknowledge Pai as the inheritor of the tradition and claims she is of no use to him. But her grandmother, Flowers, sees more than a broken line, she sees a child in desperate need of love. And Koro learns to love the child. When Pai's father, Porourangi, now a feted international artist, returns home after twelve years, Koro hopes everything is resolved and Porourangi will accept destiny and become his successor. But Porourangi has no intention of becoming Chief. He has moved away from his people both physically and emotionally. After a bitter argument with Koro he leaves, suggesting to Pai that she come with him. She starts the journey but quickly returns, claiming her grandfather needs her. Koro is blinded by prejudice and even Flowers cannot convince him that Pai is the natural heir. The old Chief is convinced that the tribe's misfortunes began at Pai's birth and calls for his people to bring their 12 year old boys to him for training. He is certain that through a gruelling process of teaching the ancient chants, tribal lore and warrior techniques, the future leader of their tribe will be revealed to him. Meanwhile, deep within the ocean, a massive herd of whales is responding, drawn towards Pai and their twin destinies. When the whales become stranded on the beach, Koro is sure this signals an apocalyptic end to his tribe. Until one person prepares to make the ultimate sacrifice to save the people. The Whale Rider.


Winner: 2003 Sundance Film Festival World Cinema Audience Award

Winner: 2002 Toronto International Film Festival AGF People's Choice Award

Nominee, Best Actress In A Leading Role
76th Annual Academy Awards, 2004

Winner: Most Promising Performer
2004 Chicago Film Critics Awards

Winner: Best Young Actress; Best Family Film
2004 Critics' Choice Awards, American Broadcast Critics' Association

Winner: Best Breakthrough Performance
2003 South Eastern Film Critics' Association (USA)

Winner: Best Breakthrough Filmmaker; Best Breakthrough Performance
2003 Online Film Critics' Society (USA)

Winner: Best Actress
2003 Washington DC Area Film Critics

Winner: 2003 New Zealand Film Awards,
Best Feature Film
Best Director
Best Actress
Best Supporting Actor
Best Supporting Actress
Best Juvenile Performer
Best Screenplay
Best Original Music
Best Costume Design

Winner: 2003 British Academy Children's Film and Television Awards, Best Feature Film

Winner: 2003 Environmental Media Awards, Best Feature Film

Winner: APRA-AGSC 2003 Screen Music Awards
Best Original Song Composed for Feature Film, Telemovie, TV Series or Mini-Series

Winner: 2003 Humanitas Award, Sundance Feature Film Category

Winner: 2003 Sao Paulo International Film Festival Jury Prize

Winner: 2003 Lake Placid Film Festival Audience Award

Winner: 2003 Maui International Film Festival Audience Award Best Dramatic Feature

Winner: 2003 Seattle International Film Festival
Golden Space Needle Award for Best Film
Golden Space Needle Award for Best Director

Winner: 2003 San Francisco Film Festival, VirginMega Audience Award for Best Narrative Feature

Winner: 2003 Rotterdam Film Festival, Canal+ Audience Award

Winner, 2004 German Video Award For Young People and Children

Winner, Best Foreign Film
2004 Independent Spirit Awards

Winner, 2005 Wairoa Maori Film Festival Audience Award

Nominee, Best Supporting Actress
Screen Actors' Guild Awards

Nominee, Best Motion Picture, Drama
Nominee, Best Director
Nominee, Best Adapted Screenplay
Nominee, Best Art Direction and Production Design
Golden Satellite Awards

Nominee, Outstanding Actress in a Motion Picture
Nominee, Outstanding Motion Picture
NAACP Image Awards

Official Section: 2002 San Sebastian International Film Festival

Play Trailer


Based on the book The Whale Rider by Witi Ihimaera

New Zealand & Australia distributor: Sony Pictures
International (ex NZ & Australia) distributor: The Works


Tim Sanders, John Barnett and Frank Hubner

Niki Caro

Executive Producer(s):
Bill Gavin & Linda Goldstein-Knowlton

Niki Caro

Production Year