Shattering international audiences with Once Were Warriors (1994), his intensely scrutinizing study in urban alienation among the indigenous Maori people of New Zealand, director Lee Tamahori was immediately courted by Hollywood. As with other successful overseas directors flirting with the almost mythological draw of the cinematic city, Tamahori's struggle to maintain his intensely personal style in the face of the increasingly difficult obstacles of the intrusive studio system serves as an interesting parallel to the struggle faced by the disillusioned and industrialized Maori people portrayed in Warriors.
Born to a Maori father and a British mother, Tamahori cut his teeth in the New Zealand film-industry as a boom operator in the late '70s, moving on to assistant director on such features as Maori-themed Utu (1983) and The Quiet Earth (1985) in the early '80s. Tamahori would go on to become a successful director of commercials before discovering Alan Duff's raw and controversial novel Once Were Warriors, which inspired him to attempt an adaptation for his first feature. Having the unique cultural perspective of being both of British and Maori descent (much like Warrior author Duff), Tamahori became attracted to the themes of the increasingly disinfranchized Maori in the face of British colonialism as portrayed in Duff's novel.