By STEVEN WINDUO
I NOW look at the making of films in Oceania. An urgency remains for critical studies to link film to the way indigenous cultures of the Pacific have been represented in films and studies across the curriculum in Pacific studies: “In addition to content differences across cultural practices, actors, and languages, indigenous films also differ in the degree to which they dwell on indigenous landscapes, seascapes, symbols, and other related iconography” (Wood 2008: 95).
Significant indigenous spaces are often captured in films that indigenous filmmakers make. Through films the indigenous filmmakers enter into a spell-binding space where there is an invocation of the spirits, gods, deities, or ancestors of the people.
It is important to recognise that filmic representation do work at demystifying the archaic, the ethnocentric cultural representations, and enabling greater understanding of cultures in change.
Sean Mallon and Pandora Fulimalo Pereira also warn, that “any art that emphasises how much Pacific Islanders differ from Pacific settler cultures can also have negative consequences” (Wood 2008: 176).
Films that emphasise older Pacific Islander traditions may suggest to both Iindigenous and non-indigenous viewers “that Pacific cultures lack innovation, creativity, and the ability to re-interpret” (Wood 2008: 176).
Such views present the challenge to indigenous filmmakers to appreciate the importance of making films that appeal to a broad audience: “Films that emphasise differences will also generally be of limited interest to audiences outside of the communities being represented on-screen.
Mass audiences are more likely to turn to genre films, to films like Eagle vs Shark, Samoan Wedding, and The Whale Rider, for people usually watch movies to see what is already familiar to them rather than to increase their knowledge about Pacific Islanders or any little known peoples” (Wood 2008: 177; Mallon and Pereira 2001: 10).
Indeed the arguments against making films with too ethnocentric a perspective are difficult to dismiss. The goal for the indigenous filmmakers is to make films that can transcend the local and limited indigenous audience.
From the lessons we have indigenous Pacific filmmakers must now make films that have no borders: “Determining when to spotlight indigenous differences and when to emphasise cultural commonalities will continue to present challenges for filmmakers in Oceania. Films that affirm contemporary western values are more likely to find funding and a wide audience than are films such as Tukana, which, for example, endorses pre-contact gender roles” (Wood 2008: 177).
Other indigenous films face similar criticism: “Indigenous films such as Ngati, Mauri, and Te Rua, which recommend choosing community obligations over individual desires, are similarly unlikely to become popular among audiences accustomed to individualistic heroes” (Wood 2008: 177).
The indigenous viewer recognises the transformations in films of particular landscapes and places of ancestor worship or rituals. The metaphysical connection to land evokes its own stories to interconnectedness.
Indigenous filmmakers and viewers, however, expect to see their narratives “inscribed on the landscape,” as Tongan writer Epeli Hau’ofa explains is common in Oceania. Hau’ofa argues that preservation and study of these landscapes are important to the indigenous people of the Pacific much as books, libraries, museums, and monuments are important to Oceania’s continental colonisers” (Wood 2008: 96; Hau’ofa 200: 460).
Indigenous Maori filmmaker Merata Mita makes the point more profoundly that “film is very close to an oral tradition.”
Mita views film as a structure of viewing that “invites speech and gesture” as platforms to translate “indigenous storytelling traditions to film,” which “is much more easier than translating them to other introduced forms, especially to forms such as print that reduce the richness of speech to one-dimensional, linear writing.
Some indigenous peoples thus may be able to move their storytelling traditions directly from speech to film, without intermediary steps involving writing and reading” (Wood 2008: 97; Mita 2003). Indigenous feature filmmakers see their responsibility as modern storytellers through the modern media technologies.
Filmmakers such as Merata Mita and Vilsoni Hereniko use film to tell stories that fill in the gap between that which is already represented and yet to be represented. Individual feature films are few, but there are more documentaries done in the Pacific Islands with the aim of telling stories that have not been told: “Feature films made by Pacific Islanders are few and far between. The only ones that have made some impact outside the Pacific seem to be a handful of films from New Zealand/Aotearoa. Films such as Once Were Warriors (Lee Tamahori, 1994), Te Rua (Barry Barclay, 1990), Utu (Geoff Murphy, 1982) and Flying Fox in a Freedom Tree (Martyn Sanderson, 1989), portray Polynesians as deeply troubled because of colonisation. For them, home is not paradise, but a site where they live at the fringe of mainstream society, disposed and often seeking redress or compensation from their oppressors” (Hereniko n.d). Film is the most powerful instrument in telling the Pacific stories with all their innuendos and constitutive elements of culture, way of life, and belief systems.
It is important to maintain the currency of indigenous filmmaking. Indigenous feature films capture the diverse experiences of Pacific Islanders. Over the years many young filmmakers have accepted the challenges to use films to speak about their own experiences.
A single perspective on indigenous films may affect the diversity of voices and experience in the Pacific. Indigenous filmmakers adapt western technologies of film as with writing to make it work for them. The pre-existing visual and storytelling traditions of indigenous communities are brought to work in film and cinematic representations.
On the other hand the form of documentary filmmaking among indigenous filmmakers has increased dramatically over the past 15 plus years.
Compared to feature films, documentary films are linked to the development of television and multimedia technologies that arrived in the Pacific around the turn of the millennium.
There is sufficient evidence of documentary films in the archives of the various institutions and organisations.
Of course, the economics of filmmaking for the indigenous Pacific Islander is daunting, unless sponsorship is from the mainstream film industry.
By STEVEN WINDUO