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Vai: When Strong Women Come Together and Tell a Story
by Shelly Schoeneshoefer

Vai is a wonderful film connecting eight stories from nine indigenous women screen writers/directors which expresses the empowerment that they feel through their indigenous culture of seven South Pacific Islands. The figure Vai which represents: water or, on a greater scale, the Ocean, is a figure who changes her name depending on which island she is on, is the center figure in each story and as she grows, shows her inner strength, fury and responsibility to her community while at the same time, exposes the vulnerability that these small Pacific islands face in the near future.  Vai seeks to use the old traditional ways from their ancestors to send a message to deter those who are currently misusing Mother Nature’s gifts. It is like an ocean moving back and forth telling stories upon stories, each one giving us a piece of the whole story.

The film Vai worked quite differently than most films. Usually a director is struggling to find money to finish his/her film. In 2017 a very successful feature film Waru made up of eight stories which were directed and written by Maori women film directors was a box office hit and were the recipients of the NZFC’s inaugural Maori Screen Excellence Award. This gave the New Zealand Film Commission (NZFC) a chance to promise production funding plus the film equipment for a new project to the producers of Waru to make Vai. It is more like the horse came before the cart; in the case of Vai, first there was money and then came the producers Kerry Warkia and Kiel McNaughton (Brown Sugar Apple Grunt Productions) knocking at the doors of the nine women from different South Pacific islands who were then invited for a writing workshop: Ofa–ki-Levuka Guttenbeil- Lililiki from Tonga, Amberley Jo Aumua from NZ born Somoa, Becs Arahangafrom Aotearoa Island, Dianna Fuemana from Niue, Marina Alofagia McCartney from Somoa, Mīria George from Kuki Airani (Cook Islands), Matasila Freshwater from Solomon islands,Sharon Whippy and Nicole Whippy from Fiji. They had a specific frame work which included the length of the short story, how it would be shot and the film had to include Vai who represents water in the entire South Sea Island’s culture.

These ladies had not met before, but, when I met them, a strong friendship had grown among them. This is a result of funding such an important project like this. These women came with strong voices and the tradition of storytelling to tell the world about the global warming problems they face, the social economic problems that exist and that they want to have a future too, so why don’t we all get on the boat and do something about it since in the end it will affect all of us. This wonderful eight short stories collection will be sending out its universal message starting in the cinemas of New Zealand and Australia in July 2019. It will be interesting to see how long it takes this film to make it back to Europe after it debut at the Berlinale.