Boy is the top-grossing New Zealand film of all time, the lightning in a bottle that is both a unique cinematic vision and a commercially successful movie. In June it successfully crossed the Tasman and won the coveted audience award at the Sydney film festival.

Boy gets to the heart of our culture in a way that is recognisable whether you are Māori or Pākehā, middle class, poor or wealthy, whether you grew up waiting for your parents at the pub, or being driven from ballet classes to hockey.

1984. A small rural community called Waihau Bay in the Bay of Plenty is where the central character, 11-year-old Boy, carves out his complex world. It’s a pure slice of New Zealand, from the tiny graveyard to the expensive iceblocks at the shop, the worn-down house where Boy lives, to the concrete steps of the primary school. It’s a realistic portrayal of a country school in the 80s: the tan aesthetic of the teachers; the pointless lino polisher; fantasy exercise book drawings; unspeakably cool girls called Chardonnay.

For Boy school isn’t about learning, and it certainly isn’t about the teachers, instead playtime is the battleground of half-hearted bullies, and classes are the space where he can spin his wild stories. His absent Dad stars in most of these: he’s the captain of the rugby team; he can dance as good as Michael Jackson. No one believes Boy except himself.

Waititi says that, like Boy, he “draws a lot of inspiration from true and imagined memories”. The film is his second feature film and he wrote, directed, and acted in it, playing the central adult character, Boy’s dad Alamein.

Waititi credits his parents and the environment he comes from with his inspiration to be an artist. Waititi’s mother is a writer as well as a primary teacher, his dad an artist, and lots of his parents’ friends were artists. Waititi began by painting and didn’t consider film-making until he was in his late twenties. “I grew up without any limits creatively,” he says.

Te Aho Aho Eketone-Whity on set with Taika Waititi

Te Aho Aho Eketone-Whity on set with Taika Waititi