Maoriland Film Festival 2023 X Pasifika Film Makers
Last week and over the weekend, Maoriland Film Festival in the small seaside town of Ōtaki celebrated its 10 year anniversary - an annual event which is now the largest of its kind in the world.
Over 140 films were screened over five days made by film-makers from 150 indigenous nations. Amongst these nations were a number of Pasifika film makers from as far away as Hawai'i as well as NZ based Pacific islanders who were showing their films and connecting with other indigenous creatives.
'A Boy Called Piano, the powerful story of state abuse and the Luafutu family won the hearts of the festival, winning the 'Rimu' People's Choice for Best Feature Documentary' Award.
Tane Luafutu who is of Samoan/Maori heritage was there screening the critically acclaimed documentary in which he plays his grandfather - Fa'amoana John Luafutu - in his younger years.
"It's been a long, overwhelming, three year journey and our first time hearing the truth of what my grandfather went through. He had held it his whole life to him and to just understand where a lot of his trauma had come from and a lot of his mamae."
"I'd never really understood him with a lot of his anger and hurt that he had. So it's just been a beautiful journey and amazing opportunity to chase those demons together and to reclaim our story and re-write our narrative. Not one where we were put into a box like a stereotype that our people have a miseducated understanding of what it is to be a man.
For those who went through the boys homes you know and how it shaped them and what it means to be a man, what it means to be a father and how you move forward with that.
Just a chance to understand the past to be able to create a better future has been the best."
Watch the trailer below and you can watch the full documentary here on Whakaata Maori
Luafutu who had been at the film festival for the full week was enjoying seeing everybody there with the different indigenous races represented and different stories coming from all over the world.
"It's been amazing, it's overwhelming the aroha and just the unity, kotahitanga amongst everyone here. Just being in a place where we can all connect through our struggles and triumphs as well - you know, just being together." he said.
He also enjoyed checking out other Pasifika creatives work at the festival.
"My favourite out of the films I got to see here was 'Ko Au' it's based on the Rarotongan myth Katiakatiā and just the animation of that I thought was amazing and a game changer for how we can preserve our history and our stories you know?
That hold the values of our people and the traditions of our culture and customs and how we can preserve that in the modern time for future generations to look at and to learn from".
The Māhuri People's Choice for Best Short Drama Award went to kanaka maoli film maker Scott W Kekama Amona for his debut film "E Mālama Pono, Willy Boy" which also won the Hawai'i International Film Festival's Audience Award for 'Best Short Film.
The film is about a Native Hawaiian police officer William “Willy Boy” Kupihea who is sent in to evict protesting Native Hawaiian residents from a settlement deemed “illegal” by the State of Hawai'i. The film is shot in timeless black and white by Director of Photography Chapin Hall and Kekama Amona said they talked early on in the collaboration process about shooting in black and white because he wanted a timeless feel.
"I wanted a timeless feel because the issues of Native Hawaiians fighting for their sovereignty and land rights has been going on for well over a hundred years and although one police officer standing up to the system (spoiler alert) is great, it won't make a difference if we don't each make our hard choices to do what is "pono," right/balanced/culturally appropriate--hence the title, "E Mālama Pono" meaning, take care do do what is right, "Willy Boy" and Willy Boy being the protagonist in all of us.
I wanted to highlight the 8 main characters, all played by Kānaka Maoli actors and one actor who is Indigenous Pacific Islander / Native American and their differences being really in their character values shown in the different tones of grey."
Kekama Amona also explained another reason he shot in black and white was to make a visual commentary contrasting the usual saturated postcard images of Hawai'i that are used to commodify his homeland and "focus on the Native Hawaiian characters and issues that we have been dealing with for decades."
"The film's color grading actually transitions from a more bluish B&W to a more brownish B&W by the end visually showing the protagonist's emotional arc from loyalty to his career to his community."
It was both Kekama Amona and his wife, life and writing partner Nani Ross' first time at Maoriland.
He said he had high expectations and knew it was going to be great because many of his other Kānaka Maoli filmmaker friends (Justyn Ah Chong, 'Āina Paikai, Erin Lau, Alika Tengan, Ty Sanga) had been before and told him about it.
"My expectations were more than met during the festival; Māoriland and the Ōtaki community was even better than I expected. I'm so happy Nani and I came and were able to participate. The love and shared values of making films that show and promote an indigenous mindset for Indigenous and non-Indigenous ally audiences is so, so important.
These kinds of stories are helping to create a better reality and future by changing the present narrative." he said
"The film festival model and vibe Māoriland has created in Ōtaki is so uplifting for all and not just the Indigenous and non-Indigenous filmmakers and creatives who attend the festival. I can't wait to return with another film or just to come and experience the festival again." Kekama Amona added
Maoriland holds workshops year round for young creatives to develop their films and also ran several workshops and panels during the film festival.
One of those workshops was a panel on Cultural authenticity which included Hawaiian kanaka maoli film maker Conrad Lihilihi. His short film 'The Mainland' played in the 'He Kawenga Makaurangi' section which was a collection of inspiring stories from courageous film-makers.
"Sometimes we get too caught up in what is authentic, we conflate tradition and authenticity and we only deem pre colonial as authentic and we don't allow ourselves to evolve.
Had we not been colonised we wouldn't necessarily have these conversations and these critiques on each other of what's authentic and what's not. We would have evolved naturally and everything would have been of us instead of the question being like "Is that authentic"? or "Did the white man give that to us?" Conrad said
So in a lot of cases this conversation of what is authentic is a result of colonisation and we just at least have to be mindful of that so that we're not over critiquing at ourselves and putting this glass ceiling on ourselves for the sake of trying to hold on to "authenticity" he added.
Check out the trailer for 'The Mainland' below -
FreshTV Producer and Director/Producer of the web series 'Akanuanua', Elizabeth Koroivulaono was down in Ōtaki for the first time and said she really enjoyed being amongst like minded film makers and hearing how they are all navigating story telling as indigenous filmmakers in a modern world.
Elizabeth who is of Fijian heritage said "It was so nice to have Maoriland in Ōtaki and feel the energy of the land."
One series in particular stood out for her and that was 'Kainga' which is part of the 'Waru' and 'Vai' trilogy of short films.
"I loved Kainga. I thought it was shot well and very cohesive across the 8 different stories, plus it was so refreshing to hear other languages on screen and the use of the house as a central character was beautifully executed."
Watch Elizabeth's full Akanuanua series here and watch Episode 4 ft Bianca Hope Dawson Pua below -
Winners of the Best Short Film Feature – Fiction award at the FIFO Tahiti Film Festival, actor and co-director Kahuetahi Kaiha and his partner and producer Carrisse Uta'i were also excited to share his short film debut at Maoriland.
Kahu who was born and raised in the Marquesas only came over to Aotearoa in 2018 to become an actor but when he got here, realised that there aren't many stories for Maquesan or French Polynesian actors which got him into writing himself.
He wrote, directed and starred in the short film ''Find where I belong'.
"The film was inspired from a moment in his fathers life when he was homeless in Tahiti but the film was adapted into a NZ environment." explained Carrisse.
"It’s a beautiful place located in Ōtaki and I felt very welcomed. It is a place where we can connect with other indigenous storytellers and empower each other." Kahu said.
"They really took care of us from the beginning until the end of the festival. It was important that we showed up because we are representing our islands - Samoa & Te Henua Enana, Marquesas Islands.
I met indigenous people from Canada who didn’t know where or what our cultures were. This emphasises how important it is to make our stories and share it with the world! Maoriland was an incredible festival." Carrisse added.
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