5 Aug 2020

Pasifika creatives hopeful NZ On Air renews funding for diverse content initiative

From First Up, 5:53 am on 5 August 2020

Pasifika and Asian creatives are hoping NZ On Air will renew their funding round for its Pasifika and Asian Storytellers initiative.

The initiative was part of a one-off extra allocation to NZ On Air from Budget 2018 to support more diverse local content to reach under served audiences in New Zealand.

So far it's funded critically acclaimed web series SIS and the first Tongan bilingual drama web series Brutal Lives, which launched on Wednesday.

But their audiences and content creators are hoping for more than a one-off funding round.

Brutal Lives Mo'ui Faingata'a

Brutal Lives Mo'ui Faingata'a Photo: supplied

One of the early scenes in the first episode of Brutal Lives reveals the traditional practice of a Tongan funeral with a hair-cutting ceremony taking place inside the garage of a family home.

Relatives break into song - it's one of Tonga's most well-known Methodist hymns "I Longa Ha Taha".

They lyrics of the famous hymn point to the bible parable of the lost sheep longing to return home.

That lost sheep appears to be symbolic of the lead character 'Soane' who returns home after 20 years living overseas to bury his father.

It's a narrative inspired by the lived experiences of many Pasifika migrants and their children, including Producer Sandra Kailahi.

"When I think about it, I think about my Dad who was born in Tonga, came here as a stow away and then met my mum who is a Kiwi European and then what it must have been like for him trying to navigate the space that was very foreign. He had mental illness as well so it was just difficult to understand," said Kailahi

Growing up Kailahi said she struggled to grasp the unique challenges her own father was facing and she draws from those experiences in her storytelling.

Now those stories are touching many Pasifika who share similar experiences.

"There were some older Tongan men. One of them, his daughter came up to me and said "My Dad shed a tear watching it and the reason was that he could relate to some of the characters in different ways," said Kailahi

"The response has been really awesome and I think it's also helped that the series is in Tongan language as well."

Behind the scenes on the set of Brutal Lives

Behind the scenes on the set of Brutal Lives Photo: Matavai Taulangau

Pasifika creators are drawing from their life experiences to tell stories never before seen on New Zealand screens.

It's not just the creators of Brutal Lives but also most recently Culture Factory - the creators of SIS - the new brown-girl-comedy series which has heralded a new era for Pacific voices.

Both web series were funded by NZ On Air's Pasifika and Asian Storytelling initiative.

Sandra said funding for diverse content has come a long way but still has far to go.

"SIS came out a couple of weeks ago, you've got contemporary writers writing about their experiences, I know that there's a series in the pipeline 'Aiku about spirits and then you've got Brutal Lives. It needs to just become the norm," said Kailahi.

"Because we've got so many great stories and then to have young people watching our stories and saying, "Wow, I can see myself, I can hear myself and this is good quality content," that's what we really want to encourage."

Still to come from the Pasifika and Asian Storytellers initiative are the Pasifika creations Rumble and Queen Street as well as upcoming content produced by Asian creatives - The MacKenzie Brothers, Lullabies, Inked and Some Like It.

But the initiative funding this recent diverse content came from a one-off extra allocation to NZ On Air in the government's 2018 Budget.

NZ On Air told First Up it hasn't got any specific new money again for that initiative but running it helped them identify the heap of talent among Asian and Pasifika creatives.

NZ On Air said it will be doing more in future to encourage and support diverse creatives to seek content that authentically reflects different audiences - but what shape that will take, isn't yet pinned down.

The latest Brutal Lives screening and Q&A with the actors held at the Mangere Arts Centre as well as the widespread success of SIS has shown a huge appetite exists for diverse content among New Zealand audiences, something that doesn't surprise ethnic minority communities here.

Saane Green who played Lupe in Brutal Lives said she jumped at the opportunity to play a character in an All-Tongan core cast with a Tongan bilingual script. 

Green said it's a rare opportunity that she hopes to see more of.

"It's inspired me a lot because obviously growing up, I didn't really see much representation of women like me, girls like me and so coming into this it's been kind of a sense of 'Yes, I've made it' and 'Yes, we can have our faces on screen' and we can have us telling our own stories by our own people creating, directing us, producing us. That for me was just powerful in itself."

You can watch Brutal Lives online at Coconet TV.