From Fields to Film Fests

The Pasifika Film Festival (PFF) graced New Zealand shores for the first time in February, showing more than 20 Pacific films and attracting solid attendances. Co-director of PFF, and New Zealand Rugby League’s (NZRL’s) Education and Welfare Manager, Nigel Vagana spoke with LAUMATA LAUANO about the festival’s impact and importance



The interest former professional rugby league player Nigel Vagana has for seeing Pacific people succeed in all walks of life is evident as he talks about the Pasifika Film Fest.


“It’s celebrating how talented our people are in other fields, not just on the field,” says the former Kiwis and Warriors centre.


It’s a passion he puts into play working with Pacific and New Zealand rugby league players to ensure they’re prepared for a life and career after the sport. He co-directed the Pasifika Film Festival in Sydney with the founder of the inaugural festival in 2013, Kalo Fainu, who started it with a fellow Masters student, Eliorah Malif.


“Kalo and Eliorah wanted to watch some island films on the big screen in Australia, but couldn’t find any,” says Nigel.


“So they decided to grab a few [films] and screen them at a warehouse for themselves and a couple of friends.”


It grew from there, boosted by the addition of Nigel in 2015, when it was rebranded to the Pasifika Film Festival.


“We tried it in Fox studios in Sydney and it went well,” he recalls.


“Our people responded really well. They loved it.”


Loved it enough to give the premiere a huge turnout of over 1500 attendees and selling out shows throughout the four-day festival.


Event Cinemas in New Zealand put a proposal to the team to run the Festival in Sydney in 2016 and bring it to Auckland and Wellington in 2017.



“It was an opportunity for us to showcase more of our films to more of our people, leaving them with a stronger sense of purpose and identity.


“We didn’t want it to just be a case of ‘coming down to watch brown people on the big screen’ and that’s it. It’s important to have mind-sets challenged around some of the issues that our people face,” he says.


“If these films can help a family work out that maybe they can do something a bit different, create a bit more positive environment, then that’s awesome for us.”


In order to continue doing so, however, they need to keep attractinge audiences.


Nigel’s own sporting profile helps, with a professional rugby league career that spanned five clubs (Warriors, Warrington Wolves, Bulldogs and Rabbitohs and Sharks) over three countries (New Zealand, Australia and Britain) over 13 seasons.


He also played 39 internationals (37 for the Kiwis, two for Samoa) and set a Kiwis try-scoring record international with 19 in 36 tests from 2006-2008). But he’s quick to deflect any attention about his own career to highlighting successful Pacific people beyond sport.


“Everyone knows us for the stuff we do on the field or on the courts and stadiums,” he says.


“So why not try to use our profile and our connections to help showcase our people doing well in other fields, like film, who are probably struggling to get the recognition that they deserve?”


Since the Festival in Auckland, the PFF team have had requests to take the festival to Hawaii and other parts of Australia.


Much like the filmmakers continuing to create opportunities and forge pathways beyond the field, Nigel knows it’s just a matter of keeping at it.