Pasifika Women Making Waves with Vai - Review

Producers Kerry Warkia and Kiel McNaughton’s follow up to critically acclaimed Waru, Vai, is poignant, relevant and empowering. A journey through eight stories constructing a tale of one lifetime, made by nine female Pacific filmmakers, in seven different Pacific countries. From Fiji, Tonga, Solomon Islands and Kuki Airani (Cook Islands) to Samoa, Niue and Aotearoa (New Zealand), Vai follows the titular character played by eight different women across eight separate vignettes all connected by the ocean- as Vai means water in each of the Pacific nations represented. LAUMATA LAUANO reviews



“We sweat and cry salt water, so we know that the ocean is really in our blood.”


The late Teresia Teaiwa’s words remain at the forefront of your consciousness as each vignette flows past you- interconnected in the way that all islands are interconnected as Sharon and Nicole Whippy, Ofa-Ki-Levuka Guttenbeil-Likiliki, Matasila Freshwater, Amberley Jo Aumua, Mīria George, Marina Alofagia McCartney, Dianna Fuemana and Becs Arahanga’s offerings take you on a journey through one lifespan.


Vai’s not literally the same person, obviously. And yet, she is, Vai has a variation of the same name that means the same thing and each Vai’s struggles are all variants of the same struggles and themes communicated in different languages.


Vai is woven together surprisingly cohesively despite the completely different casts (a large portion of which are first time actors) and storylines in each vignette.


It’s a big ask, especially if you take into account the fact that these vignettes were pulled together by each filmmaker in one day of camera rehearsal and one day of shooting.


It’s a testament to the filmmakers’ and casts’ professionalism and resolves.


However, like with its predecessor, some of the vignettes are stronger and make more of an impact than the others- and of course it will come down to personal preference what resonates with you the most.


Freshwater's Solomon Islands' canoe-set fishing conversation between a mother who has just returned and the resentful 16-year-old Vai says so much with very little. There is something about that vignette that I’m still pondering, even now, and in order to not spoil anyone who hasn’t seen the movie- skip to the bottom of this review to ponder with me.


'Ofa-Ki-Levuka Guttenbeil-Likiliki's Tongan siblings' who search for the water for their Nena to make medicine definitely has the most comedic moments and the Whippy sisters’ Fijian Vai and Fuemana’s Niuean Vai more or less have the same storyline but from different perspectives.


I imagine Amberley Jo Aumua's 21-year-old Vai, who’s struggling to make ends meet at an Auckland university, will strike the biggest chord with many New Zealand-born Pasifika women, while for others, Miria George's eco-activist drama, or Alofaiga’s Samoan Vai’s cultural and intergenerational study will. Or perhaps the final vignette where Arahanga portrays a classic tale of new life into a bustling family will strike a chord.


I can’t say every single moment hits home, some of the writing and dialogue didn’t feel completely natural- and I can only speak to the languages that I know like English and Samoan.


The New Zealand-born Samoan vignette is perhaps the one I should have connected with the most but found myself most detached from. Despite the fact that if you swapped out dad for mum, and Vai’s cool clothes for the travesty that was my wardrobe during uni- Vai and I could have been the same person.


Her storyline of giving and giving to her family, to make ends meet, and for fa’alavelave having an impact on her education despite extremely high expectations that it do the exact opposite, is so close to my own narrative I felt as though Vai’s boss was asking ME to do overtime.


And yet while I resonated with the storyline, I didn’t connect as much to the New Zealand-born Samoan Vai. Not for lack of emotion, which the portion gives in droves. Agnes Pele is one to look out for, in fact all the Vais actresses are wonderful in their roles.


The film does well in its offering of Pasifika women onscreen, off-screen and all throughout. A few of the vignettes would benefit from being made into standalone films- I’m partial to the Solomon Islands and Kuki Airani, Fiji and Niue’s tales.


It’s always meaningful and empowering to see our people and stories reflected on the big screen and Vai does just that. So get along to one of the showings and support our Pasifika women making waves in Vai.


Check out our Q&A with the Filmmakers of Vai in the next issue of SPASIFIK Mag SPK73, out soon and see where Vai will be screening near you here:




Honourable mentions and spoilers below this point, only read ahead if you’ve watched the film which I suggest you do:


• Okay so anyone else get the feeling that Solomon Islands’ Vai’s mum is dead or is that just me? Vai isn’t just resentful that her mum left for 10 years, but she left for 10 years and never came back- or came back alive. Or maybe I’m just reading too much into the mum’s words when she says “I never meant to leave forever”- and she's in white (thanks Michael for pointing this out and reminding me). And when her mum paddles away it’s like Vai knows she’s actually leaving forever now, and tries to follow her but she can’t because she’s anchored to this world and when dives into the ocean to try to pull up her anchor and returns to the surface her mother (or mother’s spirit) is already gone.


• Samoan-in-Samoa Vai spins the nifo oti (the ceremonial machete) and repeatedly drops it while practicing however she doesn’t spin it once like how she did during practice in her actual siva? Awww gumonnnnn. Also, one of the translations is wrong- her aunty totally says ‘you guys are just jealous’ in Samoan but it’s translated to mean something else. Awww gumonnnn x2.