Four short films from Papua New Guinea and Tonga have been selected for the 37th Hawai’i International Film Festival (HIFF) to be held in Oahu, Hawai’i from 2-12 November. Faka’anua, The Education of Grayson Toki, My Mother’s Blood and The Black Pen, were among over a thousand submitted film entries of which only 150 were selected by the HIFF programmers. The filmmakers, Sio Sateki Malani Wolfgramm, Glenill Burua, Katherine Reki, Ofa-Ki-Levuka Guttenbeil-Likiliki, will join filmmakers from North America and the Asia-Pacific region. Their films will premiere alongside others (including animation and digital works) shown for the first time in front of global and North American audiences.
The filmmakers hail from nations where there is little or no infrastructure to watch films in public spaces, let alone easy access to the equipment and expertise needed to make them. There is one cinema complex in Papua New Guinea, and in 2006 the only cinema in Tonga burnt down during the 2006 riots. Filmmakers there have drawn on their own resources or outside help to develop their craft. Any subsequent selection at an international film festival is a rare event and a credit to their quality and content.
The four selected films were made with the help of a filmmaking capacity development programme, Commonwealth Shorts: Pacific Voices and comprise four unflinchingly authentic stories that unearth taboos rarely explored in their island societies.
Made over 12 days on a micro-budget, the films used an entirely amateur cast of enthusiastic community members, many of whom had never acted before. While films reveal some deep societal challenges such as child sexual abuse and drunk driving, played by the very communities who are confronted with the issues explored, they also unearth remarkable talent in the lead actors. Film synopses are available in the notes to editors below.
HIFF will be the first public and international screening of the films and presents an exciting opportunity for the four directors. The films will be shown in the ‘Pacific Showcase Shorts’ section of the festival on 10 November. Find out more here.
The short films are a product of a project initiated and coordinated by Commonwealth Writers, called Commonwealth Shorts. Commonwealth Writers put out an open call for new and emerging writers/directors in 2016 in two of its Commonwealth member states: Papua New Guinea and Tonga. They build on a previous Commonwealth Shorts production in 2013 which supported film makers in Bahamas, Barbados, Canada, Kenya and New Zealand. You can learn more about this here.
Out of that cohort, one of the films has since been made into a feature film, Cargo. The Tongan and PNG film project was developed following a scoping study commissioned by the Pacific Community (SPC) in collaboration with the Commonwealth Foundation in seven Pacific Island countries in 2015. The study noted the richness of the Pacific Island region’s unique stories, its storytelling tradition and the raw talent for film making. However, the lack of a sustainable film and TV industry means there is a lack of investment and support to transform the stories and talent into commercially viable film and television products.
In the development process, Commonwealth Writers commissioned BSAG Productions to support the film’s development. The filmmakers were taken through the scriptwriting process and given an opportunity to lead a professional film crew. As these two Tongan films travel to HIFF and other major international film festivals, it is hoped that this will feedback positively into local filmmaking to further develop interest and the industry.
Commonwealth Foundation and Commonwealth Writers
The Commonwealth Foundation is the Commonwealth’s agency for civil society; a unique, stand-alone organisation, established by, funded and reporting to Governments. Commonwealth Writers is the cultural initiative of the Commonwealth Foundation, which inspires, develops and connects writers and storytellers across the world.
Synopsis of the four films
Faka’anua – Written and directed by Sio Sateki Malani Wolfgramm
Faka’anaua is surrounded by family as they prepare for a funeral that turns out to be traditional only in appearance. To her dismay, Faka’anaua witnesses light-fingered relatives try to steal a ring off the finger of the corpse, but when she tries to tell her Grandmother she is silenced and given chores to do. To prevent the loss of the jewellery, Faka’anaua takes matters into her own hands.
The Education of Grayson Toki – Written and Directed by Glenill Burua
In this coming of age tale, teenager Grayson Toki blames his overbearing mother for his father’s abandonment of the family. When he fails his exams he begins skipping school and spending his days stealing bananas to make intoxicating Jungle Juice. Powerless to stop him but persistent in her love, his mother waits for a light at the end of the tunnel.
My Mother’s Blood – Written and Directed by Katherine Reki
In the Highlands of Papua New Guinea, an indigenous mother raises her disabled son alone; endeavouring to root him in his cultural heritage and impart an understanding of his rights to the land. But as women without a husband, she becomes a target for the ravages of superstition. Borne witness to her brutal murder, her son plots his revenge.
The Black Pen – Written and directed by Ofa-Ki-Levuka Guttenbeil-Likiliki
Malaia, a newly qualified counsellor receives a lesson in the realities of her new job when a terrified eleven-year-old Anaseini is brought to the refuge by a female police officer who they suspect has been sexually abused by her father. The pressure rises when the novice counsellor discovers that her own daughter has skipped school and is missing. Torn between her work and personal dilemmas, Malaia is forced to make a stand when Anaseini’s father arrives, supported by the local priest, demanding that Anaseini return home with him.
For media inquiries Media about the films and Commonwealth Shorts, contact:
Producer, Commonwealth Writers
+44 (0) 7553 388 727
Interested in knowing more about the Hawai’i International Film Festival (HIFF)? You can contact:
Programme Coordinator, HIFF