The Dark Horse is a film based on a true story of the life of the New Zealand chess champion and Mental health patient Genesis Potini also known as “The Dark Horse”. Despite Genesis suffering from a sever bipolar disorder he volunteers to coach a group of disadvatanged kids how to play chess in the hopes of giving them a positive focus in life and steer them away from getting involved in gangs and crime. The scene consists of Genesis giving out new chess boards to the children as well as revealing a Chess Board that has maori warriors upon it as he goes on to explain that the warriors on the board not only represent each of the children within the Black Nights but represents the Knights as a whole. The director, James Napier Robertson, uses techniques in this scene such as extreme closeups, music, dialogue and symbolism to express the ideas shown in the scene conveying the main message behind the scene.

One technique used in this scene was camera shots, in particular extreme close up shots were used to show the facial expressions of the children, Noble and Genesis as well as show the significance of the maori warrior chess pieces. By showing an extreme close up view of the facial expressions, it shows the emotions of which the characters are feeling such as the smiles upon the children’s faces show the excitement that they are feeling in that moment as they are being gifted the chess pieces. The emotions in this particular scene are a mixture of excitement and wonder within the children as they are shown and given the warrior chess pieces while Noble and Genesis show passion and hope. These emotions are because by doing this for the children Genesis and Noble hope that they will feel as though they are part of a family and have a focus in their lives that will keep them away from the life of gangs and crime they will otherwise be destined for. The effect that this has on the viewer is that they can actually feel the presence of the children realising that they are being given a family and coming to the realisation that they can be so much more than they ever thought they could be. This also showed me as a viewer that even though I lived in Gisborne for around 6 years of my life I never got to see the authentic maori life of gangs and crime as by living the majority of my life down here in the South Island where we are very sheltered from this reality. These kids being given this opportunity in a society that they would have otherwise not been given just shows that even though kids like these are born into an environment that may not treat them well they just need to be shown that there are better things out there in life for them.

Music is a technique used to set the mood in the scene and give the viewer an idea of what the atmosphere is like and the general mood of the characters in the scene. The music in this particular scene was the children and Noble singing a maori song that was used in a way to show their appreciation to Genesis for the gift of the maori warrior chess pieces and show some respect for the kind gesture Genesis did. The Maori singing was used to convey the idea that the event that was taking place was of great significance in the scene and that the chess pieces were much more than just a gift to the children. We can see that as a viewer by the techniques used such as the extreme close ups and music showing the bigger picture of the family that goes along with the chess pieces. Down here in the South Island of New Zealand we don’t have a great percentage of the maori population here so we haven’t seen first hand the crime, violence and gangs so we cant relate directly to the characters in the movie and the stuggles they are going through, but we can try to understand through the use of the techniques such as music throughout the film.

The dialogue used in the Dark Horse is a big part in not only the story line of the film but the culture and significance of it. Using dialogue in a film like the Dark Horse such as speaking in the native language of New Zealand, Te reo Maori, creates a strong understanding of the depth and meaning behind the words that Genesis is saying in the scene, portraying the idea that this is a significant event that is taking place. Genesis starts off by addressing the Black Knights saying “Kia ora te whanau” which in english means “Hello my family”, this is a direct link in the scene to come as the scene is about how Genesis has brought a chess board and maori warrior peices representing the the children as individual warriors but when reunited altogether back on the chess board it shows them as one big family. The technique of using dialogue has effects on the viewer and society much like the extreme up close camera shots did with the portrayal of the significance and meaning behind the chess board and pieces. By using this technique it causes the viewer to develop an understanding of the meaning behind the chess board and pieces and the respect that the maori warriors from back when New Zealand was first discovered, carried round with them. Relating back to society, it shows that maori culture is significant and symbolic with it dating back to the early maori settlers and it is not just gangs, crime and violence which is what it is portrayed to be in this day in age.

For me as a viewer symbolism was a technique used in the Dark Horse that really stood out to me in the way that the chess board and pieces were used to portray a bigger picture in the story, with the cultural significance to the scene surrounding it. The way the maori warriors are used as chess pieces in the film really showed how the maori culture was significant to not only Genesis, but the children and Noble as well by the use of the other three techniques (extreme close ups, music and dialogue) to convey this. Later on in the scene the children can be seen to be choosing their own warrior chess pieces based upon their own personal qualities, this is moment that really stood out as symbolic to me as even though each and every one of those kids were different in one way or another they were all accepted into the family no matter the circumstance. Relating back to the chess board and pieces, in a traditional maori tribe every tribe member was different in some way whether they were a chief, commoner or slave they were still one big family. This applies for the black nights all the same as they are all warriors of their own chief or commoner, and they are represented as this by the chess pieces gifted to them by Genesis symbolising them as a whanau.

Extreme close ups, Music, Dialogue and Symbolism were all techniques used by Robertson in this scene to successfully portray the message of the film to the viewer. The message behind this scene is that, by these kids being given this opportunity in a society that they would have otherwise not been given just shows that even though kids like these are born into an environment that may not treat them well they just need to be shown that there are better things out there in life for them.



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  1. This is looking really good Sophie. Make sure you have given enough detail about the specific techniques the director has used in the scene.


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