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Cameraman filming movie

We Were Dangerous” is a surprisingly funny film for a movie whose central conflict is the sterilization of a group of young women on the fringes of society in 1950s New Zealand. 

Knowing the project, which debuted at SXSW in Austin March 8, is executive-produced by from Taika Waititi and Carthew Neal’s Piki Films certainly informs how the film approaches its troubling topic — much like the production company’s Holocaust-set “Jojo Rabbit” — with such levity, the majority of the credit for the heartfelt tone goes to a trio of women: writer Maddie Dai, director Josephine Stewart-Te Whiu and producer Morgan Waru.

“We Were Dangerous” stars Erana James, Nathalie Morris and Manaia Hall as the three girls being held in a delinquent program by a matron (played by Rima Te Wiata). And though the film revolves around female solidarity, the seed that sparked “We Were Dangerous,” which marks the directorial debut for Stewart-Te Whiu and the first screenplay written by Dai, was actually a story about Dai’s great great grandfather, who was imprisoned on an island in New...