The award went to first-time actress Ruita Purea, a Cook Islander of Mauke, Atiu and Mitiaro lineage who lives in Auckland.
Purea, who is in her seventies and has lived in New Zealand since the 1960s, won the award for her role as Ruta, an elderly Cook Islands woman living alone in Auckland – until the arrival of a grandson from Rarotonga she never knew she had.
“Ruita was definitely stoked when she found out (about the award),” said Baker, who got to break the news to his actress himself.
The 24-year-old filmmaker wasn’t at the actual awards ceremony in New Zealand either, and first found out about the win thanks to a message from his friend Maria Tanner, who also accepted the award on his and Purea’s behalf.
“(The award) means a lot to me because a director’s role is to create compelling characters in a film and working with an actor to bring the character to life,” said Baker. “I guess it tells me that I did a good job.”
Describing what it was like working with Purea, Baker said she was “a natural performer”.
“When she came in to audition for the role she reacted to the script in such an authentic way that she felt that she knew the character in A Boy From Rarotonga,” he explained.
“The character of Ruta is an isolated, elderly woman who lost her husband and who, from a young age, escaped from the Cook Islands to hide away from her abusive past. People who watch the film all ‘know’ of a Ruta in their lives,” Baker added.
A Boy From Rarotonga was written and directed by Baker as his graduation short film during his final year at university. It also starred young actor Thomas Tuaiti as Rongo, the unexpected grandson from Rarotonga.
Earlier this year, Baker was responsible for organising Te Kuki Airani Film Festival, which screened a selection of short films produced by both Cook Islanders and other Pasifika filmmakers, including the big-screen debut of A Boy From Rarotonga.
Currently he is working on an Aorangi web series with Liam Kokaua that explores different traditional practices within the Cook Islands.