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Cook Islands documentary ‘Taonga’ continues to wow global film festivals

Monday 23 October 2023 | Written by Melina Etches | Published in Entertainment, Features


Cook Islands documentary ‘Taonga’  continues to wow global film festivals
Cook Islands filmmakers Glenda Tuaine, Karin Williams and Marino Evans at the Pacific Islanders in Communications reception at the Hawai’i International Film Festival. SUPPLIED/23102041

Taonga, a short documentary film about Cook Islands artist and activist Mike Tavioni, directed and produced by local filmmaker Glenda Tuaine, has been screened worldwide and most recently at the Hawaii International Film Festival.

The film has won a number of awards worldwide, including Best Short Documentary at the Brussels International Film Festival in 2022, and has screened at top festivals in Dubai, France, the United States, and Japan.

Tuaine attended the Hawaii Film Festival last week with her daughter Ruby Newport and is stoked to have had the opportunity to experience a screening with “Pacific Islanders in Communications”.

Her short 15-minute documentary – Taonga: An Artist Activist – focuses on the life of Cook Islands taonga, legendary artist, mentor, activist, and entrepreneur Mike Tavioni.

It featured in the cluster of Pasifika short films programme in Hawaii Film Festival where she had the opportunity to represent the Cook Islands in that film space.

“It blew me away. Seeing our stories on the big screen is an emotional and empowering experience that I feel very grateful to have,” she said.

Tuaine was “amazed” at how well Taonga had done when she was notified about the documentary’s inclusion in the Hawaii Film Festival, which is listed as one of the top 10 festivals globally.

Having Taonga screened in Hawaii means “so much” to Tuaine.

“I was quite blown away actually, because I know how important the Hawaiian Film arena is and because Pacific Islanders in Communications have helped fund my film, they were the first ones who backed my idea,” she said.

“And to be able to speak to people in that industry out of America, to be able to say we have filmmakers in the Cooks that are capable and able of telling stories, and that although we are a really under-resourced and underfunded small industry here, we punch above our weight. And Taonga had done that,” Tuaine said.

She said there are filmmakers on Rarotonga including Mii Taokia who are “punching above their weight without the support that they should quite rightly have”.

“The fact is that all those people who helped make Taonga we made something that was of incredible value of the global film industry because they want to put it on.”

Tuaine added Taonga wouldn’t be screening at these film festivals if it wasn’t made well.

She said the Cook Islands are representing “really solidly” at an international film festival of absolutely high standard which fills her with pride and excitement for the future, knowing that the Cooks filmmakers have the ability to create films “and tell our own stories with strength”.

“People actually want to see the truthful and endearing stories of our time, the honesty of our time, the rough edges of our time, the not-so-great issues that hurt us and provoke us. That’s what makes an exciting film.”

Tuaine said the Cook Islands have a diverse group of people who are actually genuinely interested in being part of the film industry.

“Across different generations, we have a real good cross-section of kopu (people) who share this passion.”

While in Hawaii, Tuaine is eager to learn, see and connect with as much as she possibly can, including people and organisations Cook Islands can collaborate with.

Taonga has taken 18 months to make with interviews, animation sequences, an original soundtrack, and captured many locations on Rarotonga.

In 2020, Tuaine was funded by Pacific Islanders in Communications to make her award-winning short documentary film Taonga and in 2021 she co-directed Atui Akaou – Reconnect, a TV feature film on Cook Islands’ resilience at the time of Covid for Pasifika TV.

The film was also funded by Creative New Zealand, Bank of the Cook Islands, and crowd-sourced with Give a Little. The film was mentored by Lala Rolls, (Aotearoa) and Cook Islander Karen Williams whose film also featured in Hawaii.

Tuaine is an event, arts producer, and promoter based in Rarotonga. She is company director of Motone Productions with her husband Maurice “Mo” Newport.