Authenticity at the heart of indigenous filmmaking
By RO ULUINAVUCU VAVAITAMANA
IN 2016, Taika Waititi, a Maori filmmaker from New Zealand, released his film Hunt for the Wilderpeople, which went on to become the highest grossing New Zealand film of all time.
During the press tour for the film, Waititi was asked about the significance of having an indigenous filmmaker behind such a successful film. He responded, “It’s important that we keep moving forward and keep telling our stories because that’s how we build our communities and empower ourselves.”
Waititi’s words illustrate the importance of indigenous filmmakers and their stories, not just for entertainment purposes, but also for community building and empowerment.
Indigenous filmmakers around the region but especially us of the Small Island Developing States (SIDS) variety, are using their craft to challenge stereotypes and increase representation in the film industry.
The Soli Bula short film is a testament to the growing presence of Pacific Islander filmmakers in the film industry. Accepted to screen in various film festivals around the world, Soli Bula is a
Fijian story told by Fijians, with cultural accuracy and authenticity at its core.
Members of the film’s production team shared their experiences and insights on the making of the film and the importance of Pacific Islander representation in the film industry.
Director and producer of Soli Bula, Tumeli Tuqota says, “I specifically made this film for us and, nobody else but at the same time. Because it’s a Pacific culture, other Pacific Islanders can watch this and feel sort of like a sense of like, yeah, we know what you’re doing.”
Tuqota hopes that other Pacific Islanders watching the film will understand and relate to it, and suggests that local organisations should support and develop their own film industries.
He believes that Soli Bula shows how Fiji could have evolved while still retaining its traditional cultural practices and values, and that Pacific Islander filmmaking has great potential in the future.
Tuqota adds, “For us, filmmaking is not just a tool to express ourselves, but it’s also a way to document our stories for future generations. We want to show the world that we can do it, and we can do it just as well as anyone else.”
Neisau Tuidraki, based in Melbourne Australia, was involved in the awareness campaign for Soli Bula and highlighted the importance of Pacific Islander representation in the film industry.
She believes that it empowers the community and future generations to tell their stories.
“Pacific Islander filmmakers face financial challenges, but there are always workarounds,” she added.
Tuidraki thinks that the film industry could provide funding and script development to increase representation for underrepresented groups.
“Soli Bula can inspire other Pacific Islanders to pursue filmmaking and creative endeavours,” she says.
Fiji’s premier hip-hop artist, Mr GRIN or Dave Lavaki, a sound designer, got involved in Soli Bula because of his previous work with the director Tumeli on previous animation projects.
He was mindful of how sound changes with perspective and aimed to create audio that would work across different sound devices.
Lavaki’s process for creating the audio and foley for the film involved combining various sounds to create the desired effect and his work on Soli Bula showcases the technical expertise of Pacific Islander filmmakers in the industry.
The film also relied heavily on the knowledge of Simione Sevudredre who functioned as a cultural consultant on the film and who provided cultural context and drew from oral history and tradition memorialised in words, customs, and ceremonies to ensure historical and cultural accuracy in the film.
He believes it’s important for Pacific Islander stories to be told accurately and authentically. Still, Sevudredre is aware that it’s impossible to achieve full accuracy and authenticity due to the various contemporary lenses and biases.
His work mainly consisted of liaising with the director and production team to take stock of the past before engaging in creative reimagining.
Sevudredre hopes that audiences take away their interpretations of the film based on their individual cultural background and life experiences. He suggests that Pacific Islanders incorporate cultural accuracy and representation by recognising and respecting their history, language, and indigenous ethics.
Soli Bula’s acceptance into various film festivals worldwide, including the Maoriland Film Festival, the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival, and the Native Spirit Film Festival, showcases the growing presence of Pacific Islander filmmakers in the film industry.
Other film festivals such as the Wairoa Maori Film Festival, the Pasifika Film Festival, and the Skábmagovat Indigenous Film Festival highlight the importance of indigenous representation in the film industry.
The film industry can increase Pacific Islander representation in film by engaging in ethnographic research, tapping into the local “insider” vibe and pulse, and pressuring government and tertiary institutions to grow disciplines on cultural studies, Pacific studies, and indigenous studies.
With Soli Bula, Pacific Islander filmmakers show the world the richness of their culture and history and the importance of telling their stories. By increasing representation and visibility, Pacific Islander filmmakers can empower their community and inspire future generations to pursue filmmaking and creative endeavours.
Soli Bula can inspire other Pacific Islanders to pursue filmmaking and creative endeavours.
Tuqota shares a final thought. “I think the future for Pacific Islander filmmaking is really exciting, there’s so much potential.”
Indigenous filmmakers are making their mark in the film industry, and Soli Bula is just the beginning of many more stories to be told.
So as the young ones say nowadays, we’re here for it.
Ro Uluinavucu Vavaitamana is a final-year journalism student at The University of the South Pacific’s Laucala Campus, Suva, Fiji.