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Calling on more support for the creatives of Cook Islands

Saturday 4 March 2023 | Written by Al Williams | Published in Entertainment, Features


Calling on more support for the creatives of Cook Islands
Cook Islands filmmaker Mii Taokia with renowned artist Michael Tavioni. SUPPLIED/ 23030403

Cook Islands filmmaker Mii Taokia is passionate about telling Pacific stories. He gives deputy editor Al Williams a rundown on his journey into motion pictures and what can be done to better support those who follow a life in film.

Born and raised in Otara, South Auckland, Aotearoa, he identifies as a full-blooded Cook Islander.

“My mum is from Aitutaki, from the village of Amuri belonging to the anau o Tekaa, and my dad is from Mangaia from the village of Oneroa, by way of Atiu from the village of Areora, belonging to the Terea Mataio or Aumai family.”

When the global pandemic caused Taokia to lose his job as a musician, he sought out ways to collaborate with creatives both locally and across the Pacific.

“In 2020, I rose to the challenge and produced and directed the bi-weekly web series Kreative Kokanuts, guided by my mentor and friend Glenda Tuaine, and hosted by local celebrity Tiana Haxton.

“Tiana is a close friend of my daughter Astarlii Taokia, who holds a degree in creative technology, and is also a creative.”

Prior to that, his sole experience with film was in the music industry, where he had been working professionally for more than 30 years.

Having been involved in a plethora of music videos, and watching Bruce Lee movies, he acquired knowledge about how they are made.

In 2021, he directed animation for the multi-award-winning short film Taonga about Cook Islands artist Michael Tavioni, produced and directed by Glenda Tuaine of Motone Productions.

He also worked on the Cook Islands section of the music video for the New Zealand hip hop group Sound Prophets.

“Additionally, I started my first animated short film production and founded Xiik Studios, which includes a social enterprise called The Creative Academy 682, aimed at teaching locals skills in technology to start their own businesses and generate revenue.”

The courses are taught online in partnership with Tai Collective’s Ian Tairea, who runs a digital learning space based in Mauke.

This year he has been funded by Creative NZ and MFAT NZ to create an animated short film trailer for his upcoming feature.

His latest creation, Ko Au is an animated short film that retells the “classic Cook Islands legend of Katikatia”.

It is a tragic love story, but a story of love, Taokia adds.

It is his directorial film debut.

The six-minute animated short, asks the question, “What would make a person kill a child?” and is told through the perspective of a young maiden who falls in love with a young man from another village.

To be able to revisit a classic story and put a contemporary spin on it, and retell it from the perspective of the villain brings it to a whole new complex level, Taokia says.

“I wanted to show the emotional cost that being in love sometimes brings.”

Ko Au is narrated by his mother, Taiti Teka’a, in Cook Islands Maori and the project is a family affair with his children and wife also contributing.

“I wrote this film because it’s important to be able to tell and retell our Pacific stories.”

Taokia says his film and company were born out of the pandemic, which forced him to explore his other creative skills beyond music.

“As a multi-disciplinary artist, I focused on the area I felt least proficient in.

“I was inspired by the work of Cook Islands filmmaker Glenda Tuaine and submitted my film to the Imagine Native Film and Arts Festival in Canada, where it was accepted.

“To comply with festival requirements, they had to remove the film from YouTube.”

The film has since been screened at the First Time Filmmakers Festival at Pinewood Studios in London and featured on websites and in media outlets including Blendernation, Tangata Pasifika TP++, and Pacific Media Network.

This month, it will also be screened at the largest indigenous film festival in the Southern Hemisphere, Maoriland.

Maoriland was founded to celebrate indigenous voices and storytelling in film from Ōtaki, Aotearoa.

Taokia says the festival is celebrating its tenth year and has grown to be the largest presenter of indigenous screen content in the Southern Hemisphere, with a year-round programme of events which include industry focussed events, emerging technology, lecture series, sound and stage performances, and a visual arts programme.

This year it runs from the March 15 to 19.

“We have so many talented Kuki filmmakers at Maoriland, Josh Baker, Karin Williams and Miria George.

“We have even more in country including Konini Rongo, Tiana Haxton, Ine Wichman, and Teariki Ra to name a few.”

Taokia says the creative sector in the Cook Islands faces significant funding issues all the time.

“The government should be actively involved to support the representation of the Cook Islands on the international stage. But they aren’t.

“The production of Ko Au was funded by my family, and the trip to attend the festival was supported by organisations such as Motone, Korero O te Orau, and Tai Collective.

“I have made several funding applications but have always received polite rejections.”

He says Glenda Tuaine and Oyster Workshop directors Sarah Rennie and Kim Tuaine have already proposed a progressive strategy to establish a creative economy to Ministry of Finance and Economic Management, and presented a brief on fostering creative and cultural industries to Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration when Covid-19 hit. 

“However we still are delaying on igniting a forward thinking approach to our own digital economy, wellbeing and future.

“And the reason is simple and factual. The country’s over-reliance on tourism is impeding the exploration of other industries.”

Instead, there should be a concentration on innovating and discovering new sectors that work, Taokia says.

“The lack of understanding and bureaucratic hurdles makes the government unsupportive of the creative industry’s growth.

“However, there are particular departments that could take the initiative in promoting creativity.

“Regrettably, there is sometimes a deficiency in vision, as demonstrated by the Cook Islands News article on the government’s digital transformation strategy, which aimed to leave no one behind, yet all current digital creatives were excluded, not even made aware, or not invited.

“There is a lack of willingness in some government departments to invest in modern technologies of creativity and skills development for the next and current generations which could lead to young people staying in-country, generating their own revenue and telling stories about our own issues.”

Taokia adds there is an attitude of complacency and comfort, where people are unwilling to challenge the status quo.

“Being a creative allows us to address difficult topics and celebrate culture through contemporary storytelling.

“The digital media is essential for preserving stories and connecting with future generations.

“There needs to be a mindset shift to value our own capabilities and not rely on external sources.

“We must pass on our knowledge to the next generation and change the belief that we cannot do it ourselves.”