Veteran executive producer-director Don Selwyn has accessed $0.96m (NZ$2.4m) in public funding for a Maori-language adaptation of Shakespeare's The Merchant Of Venice (Te Tangata Whai Rawa O Weneti).

Films are rarely made in a language other than English in New Zealand and it took Selwyn three attempts in 10 years to convince Te Mangai Paho, the Maori-language division of television and radio subsidy body NZ On Air, to give him the funding. Although Selwyn chose Shakespeare over a local story, the character of Portia and her village of Peremona have been transposed to a traditional Maori setting.

The eight-week shoot starts Monday Nov 20, but breaks over Christmas. Some of the best known stately and public buildings in Auckland will double as Venice, and waterways and bush around the city will also serve as locations.

Selwyn said the Maori dialogue that he is using will be more poetic than everyday language, because he is working from a translation by Maori scholar Dr Pei Te Hirinui Jones written in 1946. The film's emphasis, however, will be on the visuals, the performances, the atmosphere, and Maori music and culture.

Selwyn has wanted to transfer the revenge drama to the big screen since directing a stage version in 1990, and he is again using Waihoroi Shortland in the role of moneylender Shylock.

The project is the first feature from He Taonga Films, the production company founded by Selwyn and the film's producer Ruth Kaupua, although the pair are constantly in production on Maori-language television and recently produced director Barry Barclay's The Feathers Of Peace. The company was originally a training school for Maori and Pacific Islander film-makers.

Selwyn, a popular actor who was also casting director on Once Were Warriors, was named New Zealander of the Year in 1995 for his contribution to arts and culture. Maori culture is depicted as violent in many well-known films and Selwyn said he is pleased to be showcasing New Zealand talent in a different kind of film.

The Merchant Of Venice is being shot on digital beta video and will be blown up to 35mm. No sales agent or local distributor is attached.