We’ve been hearing a lot in the last 18 months about under-representation.
The appalling lack of women in both key storytelling roles and positions of power in the industry is finally rearing its real and ugly head in mainstream global media. Here at home it is no less an issue, as is the under-representation of Māori and Pasifika – not always in the stories but inarguably in who is telling them and the owners of the IP.
At Script to Screen, it is usually about now we take a deep breath having wound up the annual programme. But the past two weeks have been exceptionally exciting, with our annual South Auckland Short Film Workshop kick starting our second South Shorts programme, and the close of our inaugural Far North Shorts programme. An ending, and a beginning in preparation for another year of tailored support for talented emerging storytellers in South Auckland and the Hokianga.
Both Far North Shorts and South Shorts are mentorship programmes that identify talent and provide a tailored experience that arms participants to write and make a short film or documentary. There are no prerequisites to participation except for a stellar idea that is pitched to a panel.
The programmes serve two very different communities, but both have been developed to nurture emerging Māori and Pasifika filmmaking voices in areas where screen talent development opportunities are scarce.
2014 South Shorts participant Vela Manusaute explains, “South Shorts is very important for people like me. I was looking for something like this for a long time, to be around people that support development of stories from the South Sides … South Auckland’s got great stories. Our stories can make a huge impact in the NZ film industry in the long term.”
Other participants echo this sentiment. Lene Aiono writes, “I cannot stress the importance of the programme to the community of South Auckland … there are so many untold stories and unique voices found here and they need help and tutelage to get these voices heard. It’s a goldmine.”
Programmes created to address under-representation are seen by some as tokenism, but this view completely fails to consider the staggering talent within these communities. The pitching competitions that close both our Hokianga and South Auckland workshops inspire and surprise the industry practitioners who sit as judges and mentors.
Producer and NZFC Development Executive Karin Williams, a judge at this year’s South Auckland workshop pitching competition comments, “I was blown away by the originality and authenticity of the voices. We heard some powerful stories and unforgettable images. I look forward to seeing many of these film ideas come to fruition.”
Let’s be clear, the talent and the stories are there.
One question that surfaces is: For initiatives to develop talent, is a conventional written application process the best way to identify filmmaking potential?
We suspect the answer is, not always, not for everyone. And we suspect that if South Shorts or Far North Shorts were built from only a call for written applications we would have very few applicants.
On another related note, at this year’s Big Screen Symposium acclaimed producer Bridget Ikin (Kitchen Sink, An Angel At My Table) spoke of the importance of proper authorship in the telling of stories through her positive experiences working at Australian SBS:
“Through working with aboriginal filmmakers at that time and more broadly with filmmakers from non English-speaking backgrounds … I became very attuned to the complexity of the ways in which people speaking on behalf of other cultures can be totally inappropriate. In essence I feel that quite strongly … First question: Is this story in the hands of the right people?”
We believe that one reason the workshops’ pitching sessions are so potent, leaving selectors an excruciating job awarding limited programme places, is the ownership and truth that underpin the stories.
On another note, despite changes in digital technology, and an increase in cheaper alternatives for filmmakers (think of 2015 Sundance premiere Tangerine shot entirely on two iPhone 5S’s), there is still no level playing field. It is too easy to be out of touch with the privilege many of us so comfortably enjoy. Far North community liaison Susy Pointon points out the gap for her community:
“The teenage participants come from poor rural communities in the Hokianga and around Kaikohe with no home computers or internet, no cell phones, and very limited access to technology at their decile 1 schools … For students like [Far North Shorts mentee] Caylynn, who has up to now only had access to free software for limited periods of time at school and yet has managed to write, storyboard, and execute a feature length animation, the chance to learn from respected professionals – and the loan of a computer from Script to Screen – will not only build her skills and confidence, but give her wings to fly.”
The sheer determination of a year 12 student from the Hokianga completing a feature length animation on 30-day trial software is one example of what the Far North Shorts programme can nurture. Talent and will abounds in both communities, and a structured programme with the generous buy-in of industry mentors like Michael Bennett, Oscar Kightley, Ainsley Gardiner, Jake Mahaffy and Zia Mandviwalla can make a real difference.
It is imperative that we address a lack of access to development opportunities as a hindrance to new and exciting stories being told from remote and under-supported communities. These programmes are one small contribution.
Full credit to our Community Programme Manager, Eloise Veber, who oversees these programmes.
Thank you to Foundation North and the New Zealand Film Commission whose ongoing long-standing financial support make these programmes possible, and to Ngā Aho Whakaari our wonderful partner on the South Auckland Short Film Workshop.