Smash hit ‘Moana’ to trigger Pacific wave | Pift Pacific Islanders in Film & TV


Jason Brown
Editor, Avaiki Nius

Smashing first-day box office records will see Moana trigger a looming tsunami of interest in all things Polynesia, predicts a leading Pacific film official.

“Get ready for the Moana wave,” New Zealand Film Commission’s Karin William told the 2016 Fono of PIFT, Pacific Islanders in Film and Television, last Saturday.

Nearly 40 people attended during the day-long fono, noting months offierce public debate surrounding the movie about authenticity and cultural appropriation.

Panel members, however, turned towards exploring what Moana means for the future of Polynesia – an enduring global interest in island art, music, dance, culture, people, and lands.

Moana joined the famed roll-call of Disney princesses last month.

Just shy of half a million people have already liked an official Facebook page for the Moana movie, featuring legendary Polynesian demi-god, Maui.

His legend is animated by an awesome lass, named after the vast ocean she calls home – te Moana o Kiva.

Latest stats show worldwide sales of US$180 million since movie release date, 23rd November, two weeks ago.

Of that, United States audiences spent $115m.

China sales are reaching $22 million.

Moana will also enjoy a strong following in French Polynesia, with a version dubbed in te reo Maohi – an industry first, according to Vanity Fair.

Tahitian dialogue draws on many of the same words as Cook Islands and New Zealand Maori, as well as ke leo Maoli – Hawaiian.

Samoa legend also features.

Desperate need: New Zealand Film Commission Development Executive Karin Williams. Photo / Aaron Taouma

Short term concern?

There are not nearly enough Pacific Islands film producers to meet current challenges, let alone the gathering storm of enthralled Moana fans.

Williams suggests that overwhelming audience reaction to Moana forecasts a roll-on effect of interest in our many islands.

Using interest from Moana to tell “real stories” of Polynesia was one way to respond constructively to concerns about the movie, she said.

Delegates attended throughout the day, ranging from industry leaders to film students.

PIFT fono convener Aaron Taouma was pleased with the turnout, about 10% of the association’s following on Facebook.

“One of the most popular presentations of the day was with Stallone Vaiaoga-Ioasa and his marketing partner Tautiaga Tiatia, the team behind the inspiring Three Wise Cousins film,” said Taouma.

“They gave a ‘tell-all’ presentation about how they made the film and how they managed to attract the huge Pacific audiences they received from New Zealand, Australia, the US and the islands.”

Three Wise Cousins made $2.3 million from box office sales and a DVD version has just been released in time for Christmas, he said.

But for future film and television productions, the biggest influence right now and for the foreseeable future is Moana.

After her presentation, Williams said key concepts came from a speech given by NZFC CEO David Gibson in September, promising “provocative” debate towards building a strategy for 2026 – asking the industry where they want to be ten years from now.

Surfing the Moana wave means that timeframe is now immensely more promising for Maori and Pacific Islands film.

Williams drew on their own research which shows a 50 per cent gap between Polynesian population percentages in Aotearoa, and Polynesian film producers.


Source: NZFC

There was, she stated, a “desperate need” for more.

She urged the Pacific film community to also think in digital – delegates being among the first to hear about the Interactive Development Fund, announced late last month:

“The fund supports concept development of original narrative-focussed interactive and games content delivered on any platform (including mobile, online, console as well as virtual reality (including 360) and augmented reality).”

With the Moana movie also offered in 3D, NZFC is laying the ground for the next generation of digital natives.

Even before Moana, interest was high in an area the commission targets with He Ara: Maori & Pasifika Pathways.

Delegates heard that eight of the current top ten films in New Zealand have ‘Maori and Pacific Islands’ leading roles, in front of and behind the camera.

NZFC currently has five films in development.


Source: NZFC

The Bright Sunday team talked marketing and what they can do for ‘fresh’ creatives on a budget.

Simone Hunter from ‘Boosted’ talked crowd-funding for film projects.

After lunch saw a Pacific Media Panel facilitated by Yolande Ah Chong. She was joined by Sima Urale, Oscar Kightley and Shimpal Lelisi, along with the fraught business of producing with Kerry Warkia and Dana Youngman.


Lisa Taouma contributed throughout the afternoon, giving behind the scenes “quotes” on media production.