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Breaking barriers in filmmaking: Award winning director creates first Pacific film in sign language

Thursday 9 May 2024 | Written by Melina Etches | Published in Entertainment, Features

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Breaking barriers in filmmaking:  Award winning director creates first Pacific film in sign language
Veronica “Vero” George (left) and filmmaker Glenda Tuaine, sign “great” in sign language. MELINA ETCHES/24043029

In an important milestone for the Pacific film industry, local filmmaker Glenda Tuaine has been awarded a prestigious fellowship funding from the Pacific Islanders in Communications (PIC) to create her latest short film, ‘Deaf Girl Dancing’. Melina Etches reports.

Breaking new ground, this project becomes the first-ever Pacific film to use sign language as a primary means of communication.

Tuaine highlights that it’s important to be put on the fellowship, and that PIC believes in the value of her film, as a story of the Pacific that needs to be told.

She is utilising sign language as a primary mode of communication, offering a unique perspective and representation seldom seen in mainstream Pacific cinema.

Tuaine is a creative entrepreneur, filmmaker producer, director, and scriptwriter who is not afraid to bust down some barriers.

“That’s what I am all about, I am not into barriers and I don’t really think that in the film we should be excluding a community that might be really great storytellers if given the opportunity,” she says.

The “Deaf Girl Dancing” explores the challenges and triumphs of a deaf girl pursuing her passion for dance.

“It’s a triumph narrative,” Tuaine says, “about being able to be triumphant, it’s about being able to say no and opening your eyes…”

“The real issue for me was I wanted inclusion.

“What I have noticed in making films and sometimes within the creative industry here is that we don’t include our people with disabilities really well, and that’s changing which is a real positive.”

In particular, Tuaine says she wanted to incorporate sign language, as signing is an international language, “to be able to say our deaf community loves to dance and they like to do everything that we do”.

Working with the Cook Islands National Disability Council members, Veronica “Vero” George, also known as Tangitamaine Rere, and John Paul “JP” Lindsay, Tuaine aims to amplify the voices and experiences of the deaf community while promoting inclusivity and understanding.

She is working closely with George and Lindsay who will be performing the sign language interpretation for the entire script.

Sitting and working with them, Tuaine felt like she was the one who was deaf.

“Watching them sign my lines for the film is like wow, it’s pretty amazing,” she says.

“So, it’s been an interesting moment for me as well because I sit outside of their language so I have to try and figure out what they’re saying.

“There are some hilarious moments when Vero is signing some interesting lines.”

Tuaine is proud that this will be the first film of its kind and that it’s happening right here in the Cook Islands.

“Ultimately, I want to give this community the skills to tell their own stories, make their own stories.”

Tuaine says this film is not about making it look all good.

“It’s about how we speak and how we talk to each other.

“We are very closed-minded in how we are positioning the stories of our people on this island

“We only like to show this … and we don’t show what we are, and we need to stop that.”

This is not like a normal film, and Tuaine wants the deaf and disabled community to be on the set with her “to be a part of the set”.

The project is in its pre-production stage. The actors who will be cast will be working with George and Lindsay in sign language.

There is a workload of pre-planning to do including visual cues like a flag system and more, says Tuaine.

Tuaine’s last directorial venture was the award-winning short film about Cook Islands artist Mike Tavioni.

In 2019, she was awarded the Creative New Zealand Special Recognition Arts Pasifika Award.

The mission of Pacific Islanders in Communications is to support, advance, and develop Pacific Island media content and talent that results in a deeper understanding of Pacific Island history, culture, and contemporary challenges.