Calder At Large

Peter Calder on life in New Zealand

Peter Calder: Pollywood stories making ripples

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Proud to be a part of Pollywood are (from left) Jason Taouma, Nikki Si'ulepa, Craig Fasi (curator) and Oscar Kightley. Photo / Peter Calder
Proud to be a part of Pollywood are (from left) Jason Taouma, Nikki Si'ulepa, Craig Fasi (curator) and Oscar Kightley. Photo / Peter Calder

Technically, it should probably be Polywood, not Pollywood. Polywood recalls Polynesia which is what it is all about. But Craig Fasi, who started it all, thought "Polywood" could be mistaken for "plywood" and his venture might attract too many fans of laminated timber. So Pollywood it is.

Pollywood Eleven, to be precise. For the 11th consecutive year, Fasi has curated a programme of short films by Pasifika filmmakers under the Pollywood banner. The first of three screenings of this year's seven-film programme took place in the Auckland Art Gallery auditorium on Saturday evening.

The turnout was small - about three dozen or so - but there was something simmering away in the room that was about much more than going to the movies. Families and friends came to support the achievements of people close to them - and, more importantly, to celebrate their promise and potential.

Newcomers to screen production rubbed shoulders with older hands around a refreshments table in the foyer afterwards. Over juice and savories, there was a chance to feel they were among colleagues, rather than slaving away in the isolation that is so often the artist's lot.

In the back row, trying (and quite failing) to be isolated and inconspicuous, was Oscar Kightley, whose film Tom's Dairy was on the programme. Set in Te Atatu in 1981, where the shadow cast by the Springbok Tour is nowhere near as long as that cast by the death of Bob Marley, it is the story of a young Samoan boy whose mum has told him to ask for credit from the Chinese greengrocer, to his excruciating shame because he has a massive crush on the greengrocer's daughter.

"It was an age of spacies," Kightley recalled in a brief Q&A after the screening, referring to the bulky video games outside dairies that were the idler's entertainment of choice in a pre-digital age. "And if you had a wire [to activate the coin-operated machines] and you know what you were doing, you could play all day for nothing."

Kightley was accompanied by his film's producer Elizabeth Mitchell, who produced bro'Town, but other filmmakers arrived in a retinue of one. Jason Taouma brought along A Porkbun for Charlotte, a Chaplinesque fractured-flicker-pace silent film about a young man required to prove his love by buying a $1 porkbun for his girlfriend (he doesn't have the dollar).

The finished film, rough as guts and funny as a fight, took four hours to shoot, Taouma said, though the production was more fraught than that lean schedule implies. First, nobody had a dollar coin, which was a key prop for several shots; and it turned out that the one character required to scoff one of the title's buns was a vegetarian.

Meanwhile, Nikki Si'ulepa and Justine Simei-Barton's Snow in Paradise poetically and painfully evokes the impact of French nuclear testing on the South Pacific through the eyes of a young Polynesian girl.

Fasi started Pollywood when he was working as a trainee curator in 2002 and noticed a lack of Polynesian content in the catalogue of Auckland's Moving Image Centre.

"I started researching Pacific Island artists in film and, once I sourced some films, I decided to screen a Pacific Island films night."

A New Zealand-born Niuean, he says his motivation is to see "Pasifika people tell Pasifika stories in a way that only Pasifika people can".

"For too long have we let our stories be told by others. Pollywood provides the opportunity to connect and network with Pasifika and mainstream industry professionals; helping and supporting one another is key, that's the only reason Pollywood still exists today."

It may be small, but Pollywood is making ripples in a larger pond. It was notable that in last year's Moa Awards - the local industry's Oscars - the best film, best screenplay and best director awards (and five others besides) went to The Orator, a Samoan-New Zealand co-production that was the first feature film entirely shot in Samoa, in the Samoan language, with a Samoan cast and story. Given that more than 40 per cent of Pacific people live here, New Zealand is the filmmaking centre of Polynesia.

Meanwhile, the first film greenlit by Te Paepae Ataata, the national Maori film development organisation, is in post-production: The Pa Boys, a road movie about a Maori reggae band, is expected to be released next year.

Pollywood has screenings in Henderson on November 23 and Mangere on November 28. Check out PollywoodPasifikaFilm on Facebook.

- NZ Herald

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