21 Oct 2018

VAI: a posse of female Pasifika filmmakers take the director's chair

From Standing Room Only, 12:45 pm on 21 October 2018

For the upcoming film VAI, animator Matasila Freshwater had her first experience directing live-action – on the water and in a language she cannot speak. 

She and Becs Arahanga are two of the eight filmmakers together telling the story of VAI, a woman whose journey covers seven South Pacific countries.

VAI filmmakers Matasila Freshwater and Becs Arahanga

VAI filmmakers Matasila Freshwater and Becs Arahanga Photo: Supplied

Each of the filmmakers has an indigenous ancestral connection to one of seven countries - Aotearoa, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Fiji, Cook Islands, and Niue.

After the eight filmmakers were selected, they spent five days together on Waiheke Island sharing ideas around a table, Becs tells Lynn Freeman.

They pieced together the life's journey of VAI, who's nationality shifts to that of the Pacific country she lives in for that period.

"She is she's all of us," says Becs Arahanga, director of the acclaimed short film Laundry.

When casting an actress for her segment of VAI, Arahanga was looking for strength.

"My VAI was a gorgeous incredible woman in life. I knew she would have the mana to be able to carry and hold and anchor the story. She's never acted and she was incredible, just so divine."

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 Matasila Freshwater Photo: Provided

Matasila's VAI – who is from Solomon Islands – had also never acted before, but had emailed the producers saying how badly she wanted a role in the film.

"I needed someone brave … She really went to places that I was incredibly surprised with."

VAI is a great character, she says.

"She's quite a caring but an indignant and forceful lady."

The filmmakers were relieved how well the stories were woven together, and each piece of Vai's story strengthens those around it, Becs says.

"This is a platform for a lot of our Pacific Island sisters to tell their stories which are so uniquely individual to them."

VAI would not have been possible without Pasifika women who've paved the way, she says.

"We couldn't have done it without [the filmmakers of] Waru or [Māori filmmaker] Merata Mita. I think we're all really aware that we're standing on their shoulders."

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Becs Arahanga Photo: Provided

Becs Arahanga wrote and directed the short film Laundry at the end of 2016 and has also just completed filming on her next movie, Hinekura is due for release next year.

Matasila Freshwater's short animated film Shmeat was an NZ International Film Festival contender for the country's Best Short Film of the year.

The other VAI filmmakers are 'Ofa-ki-Levuka Guttenbeil-Likiliki, Amberley Jo Aumua, Dianna Fuemana, Marina Alofagia McCartney, Mīria George, Sharon Whippy and Nicole Whippy.

They will speak at the upcoming Big Screen Symposium in Auckland.