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Avatar filmmaker James Cameron will executive produce Taonga, a Maori-centric drama from actor and first-time director Shane Rangi.
Rangi, who worked with Cameron on the Avatar movies, which were shot in New Zealand, wrote the script and will direct the feature that has the backing of Fandomodo Films, a boutique development, production and financing company that seeks to raise underrepresented voices.
Drawing on his own life, Rangi, who is of Ngāti Porou descent, wrote Taonga to tell the story of an indigenous Polynesian rugby star who becomes homeless before a violent encounter with law enforcement leaves him for dead. The story aims to navigate the realities of homelessness and modern-day policing.
Many of those realities were a lifetime ago for Rangi, who managed to drag himself out of those dire straits to become an actor and stunt performer on major Hollywood productions that shot in that part of the world. It led to a long friendship with Cameron and a collaboration with the man on the development of Taonga. On top of the two Avatar films, he has notched credits on Thor: Ragnarok, The Wolverine, the Narnia franchise, as well as all three films in each of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings franchises, among other productions.
Producing the project are Rangi, Zach Thomson (Finite Water) and Fandomodo CEO Anthony Kaan.
In addition to Cameron, Mikael Borglund of Beyond International (Deepsea Challenge 3D), Scott Frank (The Queen’s Gambit), Sandy Climan (The Aviator), Dominique Appleby (The Bay), and McKenzie Van Dorne Rice (Finite Water) are also on the executive producing team.
The hope is to shoot in 2024 in New Zealand. Casting will not commence until after the SAG-AFTRA strike concludes.
Fandomodo is independently financing Taonga. The company was founded in 2017 and boasts that it is a female, BIPOC, and LatinX, owned and operated company. Among projects in development are a film trilogy from its Supernatural University franchise and the untitled Calypso Project with producer/actor Carolyn Michelle Smith (The Chi).