The New Zealand Film Commission is a government agency that invests in New Zealand feature films and short films that aim to contribute to production financing between eight and 12 films each year. This year, one of their most ambitious and strong feature films yet is Vai, which premiered at the Berlin Film Festival’s NATIVe strand. This film stands a declaration from New Zealand as female empowerment and support for all women. Vai is a portmanteau feature film made by nine female Pacific filmmakers, filmed in seven different Pacific countries; Fiji, Tonga, Solomon Islands, Kuki Airani (Cook Islands), Samoa, Niue, and Aotearoa (New Zealand).
Vai tells the story of one woman’s life (played by eight different actresses for each location), as her story tells the connection to the various different lands of the South Pacific. Distributed by Vendetta Films and produced by Kerry Warkia and Kiel McNaughton, the 9 directors that united for this story are Nicole Whippy, ‘Ofa-Ki-Levuka Guttenbeil-Likiliki, Matasila Freshwater, Amberley Jo Aumua, Mīria George, Marina Alogafia McCartney, Dianna Fuemana, and Becs Arahanga.
These nine women were chosen from around 65 Pasifika female writer and director applicants, each with a different indigenous ancestral connection to one of the seven countries depicted in the film. The same producers of the film had similar success to what they call a “sister film” called Waru which was well received last year at the Berlin Film Festival as well. Both Waru and Vai are the first two feature films that belong to a trilogy planned by the two producers. The cast includes Hinetu Dell, Maliaga Erick, Fiona Collins, Evotia-Rose Araiti, Agnes Pele, Betsy Luitolo, ‘Ar-Ramadi Longopoa and Mereani Tuimatanisiga who play the leading character in different stages of her life.
As women of color around the globe continue to break barriers in the film industry, these type of films and the collaborations that emerge from beautiful and underrepresented storytelling act as politically and socially educational to younger generations of filmmakers to come.