Don Selwyn had a longstanding and distinguished career in the New Zealand film, television and theatre industry. He championed Māori drama, performing in both Māori and English, and was a prime mover in establishing the presentation of Māori viewpoints and culture in mainstream New Zealand film and television.
Born in 1936, Don grew up in Taumarunui. Originally a rugby-playing English teacher, his acting career was initiated by a dare: he attended are hearsal of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream with a friend who was acting in the production and when the actor playing Oberon became ill, the director, Nola Millar, asked Don to take over the role. He made his theatrical debut in a pink tutu with butterfly wings, to the amusement of his rugby mates. He toured with the Nola Millar Shakespeare Company, playing Caesar, Antony, Othello and Shylock, as well as appearing in the musical Porgy and Bess, the acclaimed film Sleeping Dogs and numerous television series such as Mortimer's Patch, Marlin Bay, The Governor and Pukemanu.
Don was a founding member of the New Zealand Māori Theatre Trust. He envisioned that it would extend opportunities for Māori performers in Māori opera and theatre. From 1984 to 1990 he ran the film and television course He Taonga i Tawhiti (Gifts from Afar), providing Māori and Pacific Islands people with the technical skills to tell their own stories in film and television. In its six years of existence120 people went through the course. With producer Ruth Kaupua Panapa, Don formed He Taonga Films in 1992 to create job opportunities forcourse graduates and to provide outlets for Māori drama writers. Don produced and directed Māori language dramas including Māui Potiki and Tohunga and several Māori dramas in English, including Don't Walk With Your Nose in the Air (awarded Best Foreign Short Film at New York Film Festival 1992). Don was Executive Producer of the 2000 New Zealand Media Peace award winning feature The Feathers of Peace. Don produced the film Te Tangata Whai Rawa o Weniti, the Māori Merchant of Venice after directing Dr Pei Te Hurinui Jones's 1945 translation as a stage play in the 1990 Kōanga (Spring) Festival in Auckland. It was the first full length feature film to be made in Māori.
Don received many awards and recognitions during his lifetime including the Officer of the Order of New Zealand Merit (ONZM) 1999, an Honorary Doctorate of Literature from Massey University, an honorary performing arts degree from Unitec and Te Tohu Tiketike a Te Waka Toi, an award presented annually by Te Waka Toi for outstanding contribution to the development of Māori arts. Don was appointed Adjunct Professor to Te Whare Wananga O Awanuiarangi.
Don Selwyn was selected for an Arts Foundation Icon Award in February 2007. The Arts Foundation was grateful that Foundation Governor Gaylene Preston visited Don Selwyn and his family at North Shore Hospital a few weeks before his death with news that he had been selected. Shirley Selwyn announced the Award to Don and conveyed his acceptance to the Foundation.
Don Selwyn died in April 2007 in North Shore Hospital, Auckland, after a long illness