Pacific Women Take Berlinale and SXSW Spotlights

A record number of Pasifika women directors are among the filmmakers to have films selected for the 2019 Berlin Film Festival, with two to feature at the SXSW Festival in Austin, Texas in March. Berlinale’s NATIVe – A Journey into Indigenous Cinema section is screening 16 short and feature-length fiction and documentary films from the Pacific region- to be opened with the feature film Vai – which will then go on to have it’s North American premiere at SXSW.



Vai features the collaborative efforts of a group of eight Pasifika women filmmakers. Produced by Waru’s Kerry Warkia and Kiel McNaughton, Vai chronicles the journey of empowerment through culture over the lifetime of one woman, Vai, played by a different Indigenous actress in each of the Pacific countries.


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.


The writer/directors are ‘Ofa-Ki-Levuka Guttenbeil-Likiliki, Matasila Freshwater, Amberley Jo Aumua, Mīria George, Marina Alofagia McCartney, Dianna Fuemana, Becs Arahanga, Nicole Whippy and Sharon Whippy.


The documentary feature For My Father’s Kingdom produced by Sandra Kailahi and Vea Mafile’o and directed by Mafile’o and Jeremiah Tauamiti will have their world premieres at the festival, as will short films Liliu and Toa’ipuapugā Strength in Suffering.


The feature doc profiles Vea’s father, Tongan migrant pensioner Saia Mafile’o, who, driven by his deep faith in God and Tongan culture, carefully navigates the rough streets of South Auckland and his sometimes-fraught relationship with his New Zealand-born son Robert, who struggles to accept his father’s commitment to a Kingdom that tore their family apart. Rialto Films will distribute in Australasia.


Liliu, a short written and directed by Tauamiti and produced by Ngaire Fuata, tells the story of a young ambitious court interpreter in Samoa who risks everything when Nua, a wrongfully imprisoned chief, fights to get back to her stranded grandchildren.


Another short, Toa’ipuapugā Strength in Suffering, written, directed and produced by Vea Mafile’o, is about a young Samoan woman who sees visions and shows signs of stigmata during an Easter service and must confront social media abuse and controversy.


Merata: How Mum Decolonised the Screen will follow its international premiere at Sundance with a European premiere in Berlin.


One Thousand Ropes, which had its world premiere at the Berlinale in 2017, will screen as a retrospective along with short films Snow in Paradise and Va Tapuia.


NATIVe Co-Curators Maryanne Redpath and Anna Kalbhenn confirm that strong-willed women form the common thread that runs through the special series’ programme: “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: 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.


The 2019 Berlinale runs from February 7-17, the Berlinale is a unique place of artistic exploration and entertainment and is one of the largest public film festivals in the world. The festival was created for the Berlin public in 1951, at the beginning of the Cold War, as a “showcase of the free world”. Shaped by the turbulent post-war period and the unique situation of a divided city, the Berlinale has developed into a place of intercultural exchange and a platform for the critical cinematic exploration of social issues. To this day it is considered the most political of all the major film festivals.


Founded in 1987 in Austin, Texas, SXSW is best known for its conference and festivals that celebrate the convergence of the interactive, film, and music industries. This year’s festival will be running from 8 – 16 March.