Pasifika Creatives Buoyed by Talanoa Session | Pift Pacific Islanders in Film & TV

Saturday 24th June, Studio 40, Onehunga; a group of Pasifika creatives from a range of backgrounds, particularly film,  rendezvous in a fono (meeting) co-hosted by PIFT and Te Tumu Whakaata Taonga (New Zealand Film Commission) to talanoa issues of the day and how the Crown entity may better work with Pasifika creative communities.

TTWT/NZFC representatives; Karin Williams (Development Executive) and Paul Fagamalo (Talent Development) headed the discussion with the group, while Nick Garrett (Marketing) was also in attendance. PIFT rep Aaron Taouma acted as moderator with Olivia Laita hosting on behalf of Studio 40.

The talanoa began with presentation of current Pasifika productions under TTWT/NZFC coconut palms – including the record of 3 short Pasifika films funded by TTWT/NZFC in production within the two-month period leading up to the fono (The Messiah, Liliu and Sista). All three have been funded through TTWT/NZFC Fresh Shorts programme. Also presented was a list of other Pasifika up-coming productions ie those developing under the He Ara scheme as well as other development pathways. Statistics about Pasifika representation within the film industry – well below their proportional population at only 3% (Pasifika making up 9% of the Aotearoa population and 15% of Tamaki Makaurau).

It is asked – “If 7 out of the top ten NZ films are brown stories, brown films, Polynesian films – why isn’t 70 percent of effort from the New Zealand Film Commission put into developing these sorts of films since they are the most successful and in highest demand?” – the response is that the criteria for development is not all economic, it also includes cultural and artistic criteria.

The New Zealand Film Commission Statement of Intent 2014 – 2018 states:

“We judge our success by the success of the New Zealand screen industry.”

It then outlines the alignment of planets in which the measures of success are based:

  1. Effective/diverse pathways and careers
  2. More eyeballs on films
  3. Increased economic activity
  4. More culturally significant films
  5. More amazing, original, different, satisfying films

This in summation was the first part of our talanoa.

“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution.”

That key quote by Albert Einstein in the days before the Great Depression (What Life Means to Einstein, 1929) was uttered in part by a member of the group – “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”

So we should be imaginative in our approach, we should imagine who and what we want to be and not let others tell us what we should be or to tell our stories for us. This was said in reference to Pasifika as indigenous people of the Pacific. It was also said in regards to women (who may have had the experience of being told what they should and should not do or say their whole lives). Like gender politics of inequity and control so indigeneity has a long history of oppression, alienation, suppression and isolation. The key for Pasifika creatives here is not to accept or perpetuate the stereotypes or negatively reinforcing messaging emanating from external forces (colonial forces), which are sometimes also promulgated by our own, but to decolonise, deconstruct and exemplify our own truths.

Pacific Islanders are great story-tellers with a long history of oral storytelling – love stories, tragedies, triumphs and magical and mythical adventures galore. Now, we need the tools, the opportunities and capacities to translate that to film as well as the other moving-image mediums. We have made strides and their are examples of success with The Coconet TV online, Fresh TV and Tagata Pasifika on television, theatrical productions are regular fodder (also providing stories/scripts), artistic expression in music, dance, literature and visual arts have leaped in bounds – But still the Pasifika movement needs game changing events to propel an entire generation ahead.

Back to statistics; 60% of Pasifika in Aotearoa are born here and almost half are under the age of 20. Pasifika make up some of the poorest ethnic communities in the country. It is not a level playing field. There are economic and social barriers towards success. This should be considered when suggesting development schemes which require time (off work) and financial input. Assumptions based on certain socio-economic backgrounds may not always be applicable.

Film has a traditional pathway of delivery and dissemination. Online we have gotten used to certain platforms in our territory. But, there are an array of platforms used in other territories we have not even begun to penetrate. Three Wise Cousins revealed a method to getting a self-funded, self-promoted, self-distributed film straight to communities with a response the filmmakers themselves state was only a fraction of the possible market (Three Wise Cousins was made for 100k and made 1.2 million at the WWBox-office). Not everyone will be able to replicate the Three Wise Cousins model or to have the necessary technical or marketing skills to negotiate the use of alternative territory traversing platforms – but as Pasifika creatives in film we need to explore these pathways and methods out of necessity. We need to be entrepreneurial and innovative.

Pasifika creative communities are well connected but it may be difficult for new blood to break into established arts circles. P.I.F.T. is open to young and up-and-coming practitioners and always keen to support. Filmmakers in the game also need support, perhaps just someone to talk to. A regular coffee meet is suggested and a list of mentors who are willing to be an open ear or responsive call is proposed. An overture is made to further develop PIFTs technical practitioner database. Other examples already operating are given – The Freelance Directory and Crewlist to name a couple – we may not have to reinvent the wheel though we do have our own membership database.

There is a call for more Pacific producers. There is also a call for more training at a basic technical level (like script writing). These calls have been made before, the argument is that training institutions teach the basics but producers need to be made – and fast. Other agencies also provide workshops for development – Script to Screen, New Zealand Writers Guild, Director’s and Editors Guild / Nga Aho Whakaari / WIFT). There are also opportunities for younger people in Outlook for Someday. While Loading Docs also offers opportunity for short doco creation. Interest is shown from a number of quarters in producing courses but also opportunity for new-producer development (with mentoring) needs to occur.

At this point the talanoa reflects back. What was a game changing moment in the past?

We are reminded of the ‘Tala Pasifika’ series of 1995. This series of six short films made under the wings of He Taonga Films, the great Don Selwyn, partnered by Ruth Kaupua and Justine Simei-Barton sparked the careers of many people. It provides a model by which we may follow – make a block of films (not one-offs), crew it with majority Pasifika, mentor several people at different levels and departments, find the most exciting talent of the day and make a big deal of it (as well as ensuring that it has proper levels of funding). How ’bout PIFT Shorts?

Then again, a television station would also propel talent/production forward. As occurred with Maori Television spurring on the creation of multiple production companies and crew development. But has the time for a traditional television model passed, now that online broadcast is readily accessible? Whether online or traditional broadcast, the fundamentals of production still remain and need funding sources. This is a challenge faced by all entering the medium.

Although there are many Pasifika within the arts, it’s a very difficult sector to remain afloat, to sway within the turning tides and rise up to the crests of the waves of success. In film it is even more difficult, a creative vision may take years to come to fruition and in the meantime you need to keep treading water. Expression of histories, personalities, ideas and community heart has been in development across the arts community for a number of years – now we need to take things further, to keep striving in our works while supporting one another because anyone’s success is all our success.

The fono ends in a prayer followed by the sharing of a meal and chitter-chatter. The people leave with a sense of lift, optimism and inspiration towards a future with the hope of better days to come.


ADDENDUM (things brought up not written in original summation):

  1. The significance of Disney’s ‘Moana’ as a game changer. How do we leverage off that?
  2. TTWT/NZFC has a new fund called the ‘Interactive Development Fund’ supporting narrative-focused interactive and games content on any platform (including mobile, online, console as well as virtual reality (including 360) and augmented reality). The first round closed in February and congrats to PIFT member Lanita Ririnui Ryan, ‘Through the Fire Ltd’ (in attendance) on receiving one of the grants. A second round will be announced later in the year.
  3. Practitioner placements in productions was discussed. How can we get more up-and-coming practitioners placed within productions for individual development?
  4. The importance of theatre and the other arts disciplines as training ground for film.
  5. Followup meetings will occur with PIFT chapters starting with Southside.

This summation was written by Aaron Taouma (PIFT Executive Director) and photos are by Olivia Laita.

In attendance: Vela Manusaute, Anapela Polataivao, Olivia Taouma, Josh Baker, Ngaire Fuata, Rosina Hauiti, Jeremiah Tauamiti, Natalia Perese, Ursula Grace Williams, Jason Manumu’a, Chantelle Burgoyne, Karin Williams, Marina McCartney, Aaron Taouma, Ta’i Paitai, Tautiaga Tiatia, Paul Fagamalo, Andy Murnane, Lanita Ririnui Ryan, Darren Hunter, Coben Storer, Simone Fa’alogo, Olivia Laita, Nick Garrett.