Vai. Directors: Becs Arahanga, Amberley Jo Aumua, Matasila Freshwater, Dianna Fuemana, Mīria George, ‘Ofa-Ki-Levuka Guttenbeil-Likiliki, Marina Alofagia McCartney, Nicole Whippy. © New Zealand Film Commission
Vai. Directors: Becs Arahanga, Amberley Jo Aumua, Matasila Freshwater, Dianna Fuemana, Mīria George, ‘Ofa-Ki-Levuka Guttenbeil-Likiliki, Marina Alofagia McCartney, Nicole Whippy. © New Zealand Film Commission

16 short and feature-length fiction and documentary films from the Pacific region will screen in the NATIVe – A Journey into Indigenous Cinema at the 2019 Berlin International Film Festival. Characteristic of the program is the presence of women on both sides of the camera: the special series’ opening film Vai alone features the collaborative efforts of a group of eight female filmmakers.

“Vai is thinking of us all – of her own daughter, of yours too, and of those to come,” says a supporting character in Vai regarding the film’s eponymous protagonist. In seven episodes set on seven different islands, the directorial collective composed of eight Indigenous female filmmakers depicts various stages of Vai’s life. Intimately followed by the camera, the character Vai makes the smooth transition between temporal, geographical and socio-cultural contexts. Individual experience becomes universal, the everyday unfolds in a single location and yet everywhere at once.

Merata: How Mum Decolonised the Screen and She Who Must Be Loved portray two exceptional Indigenous women with a common goal: to indigenize the media. Merata Mita was an iconic female Maori filmmaker and a radical political activist. Her son, Hepi Mita, researches the life and work of his late mother for answers to unresolved questions. And in Erica Glynn’s She Who Must Be Loved, Freda Glynn makes her feelings clear to her daughter right from the start: “I just normally do my thing. You can’t follow me around all day.” It is immediately unmistakable that Freda is not only the woman who in the early 1980s founded CAAMA, Australia’s influential Aboriginal media organization, but that she is also a wonderfully headstrong matriarch.

NATIVe Co-Curators Maryanne Redpath and Anna Kalbhenn confirm that strong-willed women form the common thread that runs through the special series’ program: “The films also reflect upon a distinct sense of disorientation, which is frequently played out in front of deceptively paradisiacal island backdrops. This is often due to more recent, less discussed colonialist practices, work-related migration and adaptations in living conditions made necessary by environmental changes. The films’ male protagonists in particular are frequently severely conflicted.”

For instance, in For My Father’s Kingdom (directed by Vea Mafile’o and Jeremiah Tauamiti): Family head Saia left Tonga as a hero long ago. After decades spent in the New Zealand diaspora, he continues to donate all of his money to the church back home, putting himself and his family into debt in the process. Out of State also takes up the question of what we call home. In her documentary film, director Ciara Lacy follows Hawaiian criminal offenders who first develop a closer relationship to their culture while locked up in an Arizona prison.

NATIVe Advisor Kanakan-Balintagos, otherwise known as Auraeus Solito, traces his Indigenous roots in Busong (Palawan Fate), utilizing an intense aesthetic. In the film’s non-chronological narrative, he blurs the boundaries between legend and reality, jumping adeptly between past, present and future.

2019 NATIVe – A Journey into Indigenous Cinema Film Program

Feature-length Films at NATIVe:

Busong (Palawan Fate)
by Kanakan-Balintagos, Philippines 2011
An imaginative filmic reinterpretation of Indigenous legends in Palawan. “Busong” refers to fate, which no individual can control.

For My Father’s Kingdom
by Vea Mafile’o, Jeremiah Tauamiti, New Zealand 2019
Documentary
World premiere
The church of Tonga demands donations, especially from those who have left the country. This personal documentary follows the family of Saia Mafile’o who, decades after moving to New Zealand, still dedicates his life and money entirely to his homeland.

Mababangong bangungot (The Perfumed Nightmare)
by Kidlat Tahimik, Germany / Philippines 1977
In Kidlat Tahimik’s 1977 debut, he uses imaginative montage to interweave a heroic journey and picaresque tale, the bid for progress and postcolonial criticism, and existence as a migrant worker in Paris and the way of life in Balian on the Philippines.

Merata: How Mum Decolonised the Screen
by Hepi Mita, New Zealand 2018
Documentary
European premiere
Merata Mita’s life bears testimony to how the personal is political. Blending archive, interviews and her children’s and colleagues’ memories, this intimate documentary traces the life, work and legacy of this radical first female Maori filmmaker.

One Thousand Ropes
by Tusi Tamasese, New Zealand 2017
The spirit Seipua is haunting Maea, who lives alone after his aggressive past has estranged him from his family. When his daughter returns, Maea seeks to mend broken relationships. A story about tackling violence, set in Wellington’s rainy grey suburbs.

Out of State
by Ciara Lacy, USA 2017
Documentary form
Doing time in prison might give you access to your traditions and roots, but how can you take that home after your release? This documentary describes two working-class Kanaka Maoli men who make the emotional journey back home to their families in Hawaii.

She Who Must Be Loved
by Erica Glynn, Australia 2018
Documentary
International premiere
Erica Glynn explores the life and work of her mother Freda, a pioneer of the Indigenous media landscape in Australia. Family and art, history and stories all merge in this intimate portrait of a strong-willed woman.

Tanna
by Martin Butler, Bentley Dean, Australia 2014
Given the conflict between the Yakel and Imedin, Wawa and Dain’s relationship seems impossible from the start. Featuring a cast of amateurs, this award-winning film explores the laws of nature and society that govern life on the island of Tanna.

Vai
by Becs Arahanga, Amberley Jo Aumua, Matasila Freshwater, Dianna Fuemana, Mīria George, ‘Ofa-Ki-Levuka Guttenbeil-Likiliki, Marina Alofagia McCartney, Nicole Whippy, New Zealand 2019
World premiere
Coming of age as an Indigenous woman on the South Pacific Islands is a process full of change. Every island may be different but they are connected by a shared history. Everywhere she goes, Vai is someone else, and yet she remains connected to her roots.

Short Films at NATIVe:

Blackbird
by Amie Batalibasi, Australia 2015 – 13’
Indentured laborers Kiko and Rosa reminisce about their home while working on a sugar plantation. This period drama addresses the history of Australian slavery and the forced displacement of Pacific Islanders.

Liliu
by Jeremiah Tauamiti, New Zealand 2018 – 17’
World premiere
Solo, a Samoan court interpreter, works for the New Zealand colonial government. When a Samoan woman on trial refuses to accept the court’s judgement and challenges New Zealand’s jurisdiction and claim to legitimate rule, Solo remembers his true allegiance.

Memoria
by Kamila Andini, Indonesia 2016 – 35’
Flora senses that her mother is a survivor of sexual abuse. The spectre of the past continues to loom over their lives, putting a strain on their relationship. But when Flora decides to get married, Maria is obliged to open up to her daughter.

Snow in Paradise
by Justine Simei-Barton, Nikki Si’ulepa, New Zealand 2011 – 9’
The heavenly peace and relaxed island life on Aitutaki (Cook Islands) comes to an abrupt end when French nuclear tests shake the South Pacific.

Stones
by Ty Sanga, USA 2009 – 20’
Nihipali and Naʻiwi are the only Mū spirits left in their Hawaiian forest. When Nihipali encounters a human child, the veil between the spirit and human worlds is lifted.

Toa’ipuapuagā Strength in Suffering
by Vea Mafile’o, New Zealand 2018 – 10’
International premiere
Toa, a young Samoan woman, displays cuts on her body and begins to bleed prior to having a near-death experience on Easter Sunday. For many Christians in Samoa, her experience has been perceived as an expression of God’s dismay.

Va Tapuia (Sacred Spaces)
by Tusi Tamasese, New Zealand 2009 – 15’
Taro planter Lui labors every day to buy decorative lights for his wife’s grave and so commemorate her life and her sense of beauty. When he meets Malia, who recently lost her husband, Lui reaches out to her so they can share their sense of loss.

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