Emma Heke


Director, Film-maker: Red Heke Productions, Nelson

Within our small community here in Nelson there are people who are passionately working on projects to inspire and empower, not just our own locality, but people far and wide across the globe. Such is the power of film, and one woman’s belief in her path.

Emma Heke migrated to Nelson from Whangarei in 2006, where she had been an art and photography teacher for twelve years. In her new role as mother to her young son Connor, she became acutely aware of the lack of inspiring well-made programmes and films available for children. Where many of us reluctantly felt helpless at this plethora of unappealing viewing choices, Emma began obsessively writing and brainstorming ideas for films that would inspire and educate, not only children, but also their parents and caregivers.

Emma Heke. Image supplied by author
Click image to enlarge

‘I spent endless nights waking up at all times of the night with ideas flowing through me that I just had to write down, it was as though they were coming in from another realm, as though I was downloading them.’

Within a couple of months Emma had written the plans for no less than ten films. Each aimed at bringing creativity and education into the lives of our children, respecting their intelligence, and using the New Zealand landscape and its people as inspiration. Having never used any filming equipment in her life before, Emma enrolled in a six month film and editing course at NMIT, up-skilling from her previous background in photography, and remorselessly picking her tutors' minds on everything she would need to make her dream become a reality.

‘I think they must have thought I was mad! I had this huge vision and such little experience.’

In 2007 Emma formed Red Heke productions and, in 2009, the first in the series of DVD’s for children, OURS; an alphabetical journey exploring New Zealand’s natural life and landscapes, was released. This production led Emma to win the 2011 Green Ribbon Award, for ‘Environment in the Media.’ The huge success of OURS was followed, shortly afterwards, in 2010 by the release of OUR Creative Children. This uses New Zealand nature as the starting point and inspiration for art, ideas and creativity.

Fuelled by the success of her first two DVD’s, Emma’s next mission was to head off around the country, on Our Green Roadie, filming families who are supporting themselves through eco-conscious, creative and economically viable businesses. After a winter of research, September 2011 saw Emma, and her seven-year old son Connor, rent out their house in Nelson, and head off in a van on a self-funded (from sales of the previous two DVD’s) seven month trip that took them the length and breadth of the country, from Whangerei in Northland down to Riverton in Southland.

Emma Heke and son, on the road. Image supplied by author
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Our Green Roadie is a feature length documentary of their journey, telling the fascinating stories of fifty ordinary Kiwi families, who have all made the conscious decision, and often incorporated huge changes into their lives, in order to live their dreams of a more sustainable lifestyle.

‘I wanted to dispel myths about green living and that it's only hippies or a lucky few that can afford to run away and live off the land. I hope that most people will find something in the film that is pertinent to them and can be a catalyst for real change.’

The focus is on organic and environmentally sustaining businesses, ranging from natural skincare, to innovative waste and recycling solutions, farming, horticulture and crafts, amongst many others. From multi- million dollar companies to small businesses run from a shed in the back yard, Emma got to the heart of what motivates and inspires these families and how their lives and our environment are enriched by the way that they live.

On their return to Nelson in April 2012 Emma set about editing the footage, but needed to raise funds to employ an additional local editor to help get it to the standard it deserved, and to complete the production process. At this stage Emma turned to the fundraising platform ‘Pledgeme’ to reach their goal of $9750.00. The target was reached within the allowed 28 days, thanks to some generous pledges coming in from both Nelson and all over the country. Our Green Roadie is now a beautifully crafted documentary.

As well as home schooling her son Connor, Emma is the one-woman band for the research, filming, sales and marketing of the DVD’s. A true example of kiwi ingenuity, multi-tasking, and trusting in the flow of life when on the right path:

‘When I am filming and working on these projects I know that I am doing exactly what it is I was put here to do at this time.’

Emma’s talent and passion for her mission in life is easy to see, and is a shining example of how one person can make a huge difference, when fear and doubt is discarded and a direction and intent chosen.  One of the many snippets of wisdom that is shared from the families throughout the making of this film is to take one step every day towards the big dream.

Emma Heke, her latest film, Our Green Roadie, and the story behind its creation, are sure to be an inspiration to all ages and an empowering catalyst for change to many.

This article was submitted as part of a Nelson Marlborough Insititute of Technology Creative Writing assignment, 2013

In 2017, Emma embarked on a new project - home grown herbal teas, which are sold at the Nelson Market and online. 

Updated May 2020

Sources used in this story

  • Interviews with Emma Heke, 2013

Want to find out more about the Emma Heke ? View Further Sources here.

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  • Kia Ora Emma

    Ko Maungaemiemie te Maunga
    Ko Pupuke te awa
    Ko Mamaru te waka
    Ko Ngati Kahu te Iwi
    Ko Te Tahaawai te hapu
    Ko Te Ururoa toku tupuna
    Ko Pererika Heke toku Matua
    Ko James Rika ahau

    Tena Koe Emma
    You have the name Heke is this the name from Whangaroa or Kaikohe. Anyway what is amazing is that we are fighting for our whenua a sacred Pa called Pinea. I would to produce a documentary of our journey. As our whanau were evicted from this site we fight today presenting in the next Whangaroa hearing week before the Waitangi Tribunal first week of September 2015.

    If you are interested in filming our story and we are trying to do an animation of the stories of Whangaroa such as Maui penis outside the Whangaroa habour and Tawhiki placing the baskets of knowledge on our whenua where our tupuna were born. Matanehunehu and tawhiki steps. My number is 09 405 1862 email: sophia_kwc@hotmail.com

    Posted by James Herbert Rika Heke, 14/08/2015 3:05pm (9 years ago)

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Further sources - Emma Heke