Profile: Nikki Si’ulepa at Berlinale Talents | Pift Pacific Islanders in Film & TV

Nikki Si’ulepa first won acclaim after starring in 1996 movie The Whole of the Moon as a Samoan street-kid in love. After time working behind the scenes, she returned to report, shoot and direct for current affairs show Tagata Pasifika. Her short film Snow in Paradise (2012), co-directed with Justine Simei-Barton (Tala Pasifika Productions) travelled several short film festivals including Tribeca and Berlin.  In 2012 Nikki also shot and directed her first documentary Salat se Rotuma – Passage to Rotuma which also did well on the international festivals circuit. In 2013 Nikki and producer, Ngaire Fuata, self funded and shot a short film about Nikki’s grandmother called, Ma, which is still travelling circuits today.

In 2017 Nikki was invited to join 250 other delegates at the Berlinale Talents which is the conferencing and networking part of the Berlin International Film Festival. Nikki tells us a little about her experience at Berlinale Talents and the wider festival.


Last year I applied for BERLINALE TALENTS which is a summit for upcoming filmmakers from around the world that runs during the Berlinale (Berlin Film Festival), and the EFM (European Film Market) in February every year. This year is the BERLINALE TALENTS 15th year. I was one of the 250 successful filmmakers (and the only Kiwi / Pacific Islander) from 71 countries around the world with over 7,000 applications submitted.

Once accepted, I contacted the Talent Development team at the New Zealand Film Commission to ask if I was eligible for a grant to attend Berlinale Talents. They advised me to apply for the Travel Development Fund for which, thankfully, I was successful. With this grant / fund, you must provide the NZFC with a written report and summary of the BT, photos of you at the BT, and a financial budget / spreadsheet when you return. So, the next step was to pack for BERLINALE TALENTS in Berlin, Germany during winter!

BERLINALE TALENTS 2017 ran from 11-16 February and was very intense! The week was jam packed with discussions from expert filmmakers, films from Alumnus TALENTS, excursions, tours of the EFM, speed networking events and loads of parties. If you apply with a project that’s in development or is ready, you can attend specific studios and labs, like the Doc lab, short film lab and script writing labs. If you’re a DOP, editor or actor you can apply to those specific studios also.


Every morning started the same, 0830 line up to get tickets for the discussions and films and excursions that you wanted to attend (the number of people became less with every day and party the previous night). With a BT’s badge accreditation you could get in to almost everything! Even tickets to any Berlinale films that were screening AFTER 1800 (because you are required to attend BT only events before that time and not just watching films all day, as nice as that sounds).

Then, everyone networks over breakfast in the HAU 2 space. You literally meet new people every day. I didn’t even meet half of the Talents. Florian and Christine (the organisors) give you a run down of the day ahead and then you jump into ‘circles’ where industry professionals answer any questions that you may have about what they do and what field they work in. It’s very casual and the professionals are extremely open. Then, you’re off on your own personal schedule.

The hardest thing is deciding what to attend. Sometimes you need to sacrifice some babies for others. To be honest, it is quite overwhelming to begin with but after a day or so you get the hang of it, get chatting to other Talents and you’re off!

Berlin goes BERLINALE crazy during February and I was fortunate enough to attend the World / European Premieres of all three Kiwi films in the BERLINALE, One Thousand Ropes (Tusi Tamasese, Catherine Fitzgerald), Poi E (Tearepa Kahi, Alex Behse), and The Inland Road (Jackie van Beek, Aaron Watson). Luckily, they all screened at night so I was able to go. Berlin Film audiences absolutely loved all of the Kiwi films. They have such a healthy film culture that all of their massive 1,000 capacity cinemas were at least 3/4 full. The audiences had lots of interesting questions about the films in the Q&A’s afterwards and life in NZ.

Tusi Tamasese introduces One Thousand Ropes Nikki with the One Thousand Ropes team Screenshot Poi E
The Inland Road team Gloria Popata, Jodie Hillcock and Jackie Van Beek The Inland Road stars Gloria Popata and David Elliot with director Jackie van Beek The Inland Road team on stage

The European Film Market is a mecca for buyers and sellers of international films. I took an EFM Discovery Tour and got a taste of what it’s like. I’ll tell you now, it’s not for the faint hearted. Meetings were constantly taking place everywhere and producers and companies spent endless days trying to sell their films. It was great to see the NATIVE stand promoting market ready feature films from indigenous filmmakers, including WARU made by Maori filmmakers from NZ.

BT was a great experience. I’m so honoured to have been selected and assisted by the NZFC. It’s a great opportunity for filmmakers in all different fields. I made loads of friends and networks and was inspired to push forward on my next project. I reckon the only prerequisite to attending the BT is a passion for film and a fervent desire to learn and further your own professional career to become the best filmmaker capable of telling your stories.