A glittering red carpet event with dazzling light displays and an audience of over 700 people heralded the premiere of a powerful and touching film by a group of female Pacific filmmakers at the Māoriland Film Festival in Ōtaki on Wednesday.

Te Wānanga o Raukawa's Ngā Purapura was packed for the screening of Vai, a film constructed of multiple vignettes addressing the concept of empowerment through culture during the lifetime of one woman, played by a different indigenous actor in seven different Pacific Island countries.

The film was written and directed by nine filmmakers who each dealt with the experience of Vai as she meets with various challenges on her journey of self-discovery and belonging.

It premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival in January 2019 to critical acclaim.


Vai was produced by Kerry Warkia and Kiel McNaughton as a follow-up to the 2017 feature film Waru which chronicled the lives of nine Māori women.

Vai travels though Fiji, Tonga, the Solomon Islands, Kuki Airani (the Cook Islands), Samoa, Niue and ends in Aotearoa New Zealand, spanning the life of the character between the ages of seven and her 80s.

The different sections of the film were written and directed by Sharon Whippy, Nicole Whippy, 'Ofa-Ki-Levuka Guttenbeil-Likiliki, Matasila Freshwater, Amberley Jo Aumua, Mīria George, Marina Alofagia McCartney, Dianna Fuemana and Becs Arahanga, who attended the Ōtaki premiere along with some of their cast.

Warkia and McNaughton said the concept behind Vai was to choose nine film makers and invite them to work together to develop the stories they wanted to tell within a set of creative restrictions that each film had to stick to.

These included having a lead indigenous female character named Vai, each section being 10 minutes long, using real time or a continuous take where possible. Vai had a shared history throughout the different stories, about a moment in Vai's life that is around eight to 12 years apart from the other stories, inclusion of the theme of female empowerment through culture and using water as a visual theme.

"The goal with Vai was to bring under-represented voices to the fore and tell a story of female empowerment through culture which is inclusive of as many Pacific Island cultures as possible," said Warkia.

"The writers and directors are all New Zealanders with indigenous ancestral links to each of the Pacific Islands where they set their stories."

Spokesperson Kate Jones said the film aligned with the Māorilands Film Festival kaupapa, to celebrate Indigenous creativity and storytelling in film.


"We are incredibly proud to have Vai open this important and exciting film festival," she said.

The annual festival brings international indigenous film to the Kāpiti Coast for five days of screenings, workshops, networking, art exhibitions and celebrations each year.