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BSS2015: exploring indigenous networks

Karin Williams moderated a panel of Briar Grace-Smith, Libby Hakaraia and Chelsea Winstanley discussing indigenous networks. Listening to this discussion it was evident that collaboration is highly valued as underpinning all indigenous film making.

Opening the discussion Williams acknowledged the important work of those in whose footsteps indigenous filmmakers now walk – freedom fighters, elders, teachers and other mentors. Asked to name some of their influences panel members included Patricia Grace, Barry Barclay, Don Selwyn, Ella Henry, Kath Brown and Tainui Stevens, as well as whanau, the community of local industry people and global networks.

Merata Mita was singled out for special mention as one whose wairua is still present. It was pointed out that she remains the only Māori woman to direct a feature. Winstanley, who is working on a documentary about Mita with Merata’s son Hepi said she is “still being taught by her.”

Mita’s example led to the panel considering why, when Māori women are “doing all kinds of amazing work” they are not making features. Prioritising being a mother was offered as one answer, with Winstanley’s multi-tasking – feeding and changing her gorgeous baby during the panel discussion – providing clear evidence of her dual roles as mother and filmmaker. Grace-Smith added that the relatively few Māori women in the business “need to share our skills and talents and enable each other to get our films up,” and reiterated the comment she made in the opening panel, that she wants to be asked onto a project for her skills, not to be a token tick in the ‘indigenous’ box – a point she’d also referenced in the Symposium’s opening panel discussion.

The discussion then moved to the tricky nature of the term ‘indigenous’, with Williams suggesting that some filmmakers resist the label as a ‘cultural coffin’. Hakaraia pointed out that these conversations are taking place all the time and that a sense of indigeneity is very similar globally as all colonised people have challenges and share realities not reflected in Hollywood. Taking the positive approach, a label can only affect or undermine you if you let it and there is cause for celebration in the global rise of indigenous film.

There was a lot of discussion around the value of the power of connectivity through a global indigenous film network and global and local festivals as a way of encouraging collaborative projects. The ImagineNATIVE Film and Media Arts Festival held annually in Toronto NATIVE showcases indigenous work from around the globe and offers opportunities for new collaborations. Grace-Smith described how her ImagineNATIVE lab experience of collaborating with Cree in Toronto gave her a fresh perspective, where being in a different place and talking to elders changed how she looked at her work and made her see the extent to which she is colonised by a western way of telling stories.

Winstanley talked about her time in Hawai’i, where she and Taika Waititi collaborated with MA’O Organic Farms, a 23-acre certified organic farm established as a “youth food garden” which aims, through practical experience and formal education, “to restore our ancestral abundance … and nurture a sustainable, resilient and just 21st century Hawai‘i.”

Initiating Mana Moana: Pasifika Storytelling Through Land and Film, Taika and Chelsea screened Boy, Two Cars, One Night and Tama Tū and talked about story sovereignty and being in control of your own territory, including the notion that film makers should be in control of distribution of their work.

Emphasising the value of local festivals, Hakaraia described how, as a result of the latest Māoriland Film Festival in Ōtaki, kids who’d attended were later re-enacting the stories back at school and wanting to tell their own stories. This affordable, community event has great value in providing a platform for filmmakers and an opportunity for the community to come together and share stories.

With an all-woman panel and the majority of the audience female it’s not surprising that the focus of this discussion turned to issues facing women filmmakers. Asked by an audience member “what is distinctive about the woman’s voice?” the panel came up with perspective, experiences, how to tell the best story, provision of decent lead roles for women and different processes and energy in the way we work with each other. The Women at Sundance programme was cited as an example of something that would be useful here.

Other suggestions included: NZFC assistance for indigenous collaboration; NZFC commitment to gender equality for directors; turn own iwi onto film; create a support network for Māori women; encourage crowd funding.

Asked how you critique your own culture without offending, the panel offered taking a stand, staying with an honest approach, letting the voices tell the story; checking to see if you’re trying to protect yourself and telling the story from the place of the character’s truth. “We’re growing up and learning as we go. We all suffer from fear of getting it wrong, from being shunned by our own.” From the audience Tainui Stephens commented that, as the marae is the courtyard of opinion, it behoves you as a story teller to know your culture and the way your people are if you’re going to critique. General agreement established that two things you need to use as guidelines: listen to the aunties – no sex scenes, please; and emulate Merata – stand up and say it!

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