‘VAINE TOA’ is the theme of this year’s Te Kuki Airani Film Festival – and it shows women’s film-making has never been stronger in the Pacific.
More than four-fifths of the films shown at the festival will feature either a strong lead, female cast, or be produced, written, or directed by a female filmmaker.
“Often in these films you will see a combination of all of these aspects, and we are honoured to give our vaine toa creatives the screen to showcase their outstanding works for our local Cook Islands audience,” says Festival director Joshua Teariki Baker.
The annual festival, now in its second year, aims to “highlight indigenous cinema and share our unique stories and personal experiences,” says Baker. He struggles to contain his excitement as he explains why the festival is about more than just enjoying a good movie.
“The Festival is something to help bring our people back,” Baker says. The 25-year-old is optimistic about the rising popularity of the creative arts in the Cook Islands, saying “people are realising it is something you can do to pay the bills”.
There will be five feature films and ten short films screened over the course of five days at the Empire Cinema. The festival features the Pacific premiere of two films in one night and the Cook Islands premiere of ‘Vai’, a portmanteau feature film partly set in the Cook Islands.
‘Vai’ was produced by nine female Pacific filmmakers, including Cook Islander Miria George. The eco-activist section she has directed has been so acclaimed by critics that there are calls for a spin-off film.
It depicts a 30-something Vai, played by Evotia-Rose Araiti, making a stand against over-fishing on her island of Rarotonga, finding her voice as an activist amid apathy, fear and the trappings of colonialism.
NZ Herald reviewer Dominic Corry describes Miria George’s section of the movie as “electric”.
And Flicks film critic Liam Maguren says it is “photographed in a ravishing natural setting” and it begs for its own spinoff film.
“There’s a Pacific ocean-sized world of indigenous cinema we’ve yet to explore, and Vai should be commended for building a sturdy waka.”
The portmanteau movie was filmed in seven different Pacific countries, including Fiji, Samoa, Niue, the Solomon Islands and of course the Cooks. It is about the journey of empowerment through culture over the lifetime of one woman, Vai, who is played by a different actress in each segment of the film.
Baker is excited for the local premiere and says it will be a major drawcard of the event. “It’s seeing your uncle, your aunty, your family, up there on the big screen,” he says. “Te Kuki Airani Film Festival provides a platform for us to come together and enjoy the creative arts.”
George, with Cooks actors Araiti and Taungaroia Emile, will attend the festival.
‘For My Father’s Kingdom’, which premieres at the Festival, follows an Auckland-based Tongan pensioner’s struggles with his New Zealand-born son. Another premiere, ‘Marks of Mana’, is an exploration of stories honouring women who hold traditional knowledge and keep it alive through daily acts.
At last year‘s festival, a large crowd gathered at the Cook Islands National Auditorium to watch a series of short films in one night.
Free film workshops coinciding with the Festival will be held for interested youth again this year. Baker says these will aim to teach new skills, based around telling stories through film. He hopes they will also ignite a passion for film amongst participants.
Baker says the festival has potential to compete with “the greats” and aims to do so.
This year, New Zealand-born Cook Islander Pouarii Tanner is assisting Baker with the organisation of the Festival and accompanying workshops.