Sima Urale has worked in the creative industry from theatre to film and television for more than 30 years, initially as a professional actor in theatre, and then in the last 25 years as a freelance filmmaker.
She is a highly regarded filmmaker with extensive experience in drama and acting, writing and developing screenplays, to directing numerous films from drama to documentary, TV commercials, music videos, and corporate videos.
Sima immigrated from a small village in Samoa to Wellington at around the age of seven. The fourth child of a large family she grew in to the arts with members of her family doing the same. At 19, after time on a Government funded acting course, she was encouraged to apply for a place at drama school Toi Whakaari. This was the beginning of what would be an incredible career as a visual storyteller.
After graduating, Urale joined television sketch show Skitz. Next audiences saw her in tele play Swimming Lessons and Samoan play Think of a Garden. After two years as an actor, Urale’s friends and family pulled together to help with her apply, for Melbourne's Victorian College of the Arts Film and Television. She later graduated with a bachelors degree in arts, film and television.
On returning home to Wellington, she wrote and directed her much-celebrated short O Tamaiti that went on to Venice Film Festival, won Best NZ Short, and another at the Chicago Film Festival. After that Sima went on to creating Velvet Dreams. It screened at the NZ and Hawaii film festivals, and won Best Documentary Award at Canada's Yorkton Short Film and Video Festival. These were not the last of her creations, as Still Life followed along with The Living Room and even directed her brother King Kapisi’s music video “Sub-Cranium Feeling”.
An excerpt from the award winning film O Tamaiti
Down the line Urale won the first Fulbright-Creative New Zealand Pacific Writers' Residency at the University of Hawaii. She spent six months in Amsterdam as part of the Mauritz Binger Script Development Programme, working on her long-in-development feature project Moana. After returning to New Zealand, Urale showed her sensitivity to character with outsider tale Coffee and Allah, the tale of a Muslim Ethopian woman immigrant.
Urale's interest in social themes weaved in to her work on commercials. Aside from a beloved Vogel's bread ad, she has directed a number of health-related spots, including campaigns on cervical screening and family violence. Urale's work in commercials has seen her on location from Malaysia to New York. She has also spent time in Samoa and Fiji, upskilling Pacific Islanders in making commercials.
In 2010 Urale began lecturing at Unitech Film and Television School. In mid 2012 she took over as head tutor at Wellington's NZ Film and Television School. Although Urale takes the time to pass down her knowledge and mentor upcoming creatives, she still puts aside time to create.
Just last year she released The Tender Trap and was featured by the Golden Globes for her work on that project. With a plethora of projects under her mantle Sina Urale is one of the few Polynesian film directors in the world with more than 15 years in the industry.
Sima has also been a mentor for emerging filmmakers, and woven together groundbreaking projects that paved the way for Pacific storytellers. She has been part of the storytelling journeys of creatives like director Vea Mafile’o.
“Sima has been such as inspiration for me throughout my career, starting out as a young reporter she was one of my first stories for TP and I was so nervous about meeting her & making something she would approve of, but she really was so warm & generous with her time & energy which continued though to when she was my mentor on the Coconet.TV Daughters of the Migration film. She continues to be an empowering force for us brown women in the industry”, Vea shared fondly about her mentor.
Daughters of the Migration, Judge Ida Malosi. A project Vea worked on with the help of Sima.
"Sima, solid just like her name! Always a blessing to share space with an icon whose brush and pen is on its own elite level. She is the boundary breaker, bar raiser, game changer, trend setter and risk taker!
A mind of a multi-dimensional genius that could never be duplicated. She is the Reference on every Artist’s Mood board!
Malo Lava Queen on your well deserved acknowledgment!" - Director Mario Faumui who was mentored by Sima Urale during the making of Teine Sa: The Ancient Ones - Teina Sa
"Sima has, is and always will be my tuakana and life mentor in film. She was the one who first put us on screen in our own terms. ‘O Tamaiti’ was the film that every Islander watched to see ourselves, she literally changed the lives of a whole generation by letting us be seen, in order to be.
She mentors all our young Pasifika directors and writers and recently took 3 directors under wing who went on to directed the acclaimed ‘Teine Sa’ series. Malo lava le galue Sima, thank you so much for the many learnings, so proud for you to be honored in this way." - Tikilounge Productions Owner and Producer Lisa Taouma pays tribute to her friend and mentor.
* Cover Image photo credit: The Arts Foundation Tumu Toi