Sima Urale, Samoa’s first female filmmaker, has brought touching stories of Pacific peoples to the screen, often from an NZ outsider’s point of view. Urale credits her film success to determination and dealing with social issues close to her heart. Her lauded shorts (O Tamaiti, Still Life) were followed by her 2008 feature debut Apron Strings. Urale has also spent time as head tutor at Wellington's NZ Film and Television School.
I always strive to make a film that says what I want it to say. If I didn’t have anything to say, I wouldn’t make films. Sima Urale
Writer/director Tusi Tamasese won multiple awards for his first feature, the Samoan-set The Orator - O Le Tulafale. This New Zealand-set follow-up involves a Samoan father whose daughter Ilisa returns home, pregnant and badly beaten. In her movie debut, Frankie Adams (Shortland Street) plays Ilisa, and Uelese Petaia (star of Albert Wendt adaptation Sons for the Return Home) is the boxer turned baker, in a tale of family, revenge and redemption. One Thousand Ropes debuted in the Panorama section of the 2017 Berlin Film Festival, before opening in NZ and Samoa in March.
In Samoan-born director Sima Urale's first feature, two mothers from very different Aotearoa cultures find the courage to confront the secrets of the past, in order to set their sons free. Hard-working Lorna runs an old-fashioned cake shop and lives with her unemployed son. For Anita, star of an Indian cooking show, things come to a head when her son decides to meet her estranged sister Tara, who runs a no-frills curry house. Apron Strings debuted in the Discovery Section of the 2008 Toronto Film Festival. It won four Qantas awards, including for actors Jennifer Ludlam and Scott Wills.
"E tu stand proud, kia kaha say it loud", Dean Hapeta's lyrics typify the socio-political messages in NZ's early rap music. The four elements of hip hop: breakdancing, graffiti, DJ-ing and rap are examined through interviews with key players in the hip hop scene (including King Kapisi, Che Fu, Upper Hutt Posse). A recurring theme in the Sima Urale-directed documentary is that local hip hop artists are less interested in the "girls, booze and bling" school of hip hop, and more interested in using their art to make a political statement.
This episode of arts show Mercury Lane features legendary musician Bill Sevesi, and poet Sonja Yelich (mother of musician Lorde). Sevesi takes centre stage: various musician friends join him to reminisce about packing Auckland dance halls in the 50s and 60s (at least until the arrival of 10 o'clock closing). After celebrating his 79th birthday, Sevesi is still as upbeat and music-obsessed as ever, especially when it comes to his beloved steel guitar and ukulele. In the final clip, Sonja Yelich performs her poem Teeth, with wry accompanying visuals from director Fiona Samuel.
Brought to you from "the Samoan Embassy" (in reality, the Naked Samoans' motel room) this episode of The Living Room follows the comedic theatre troupe during their time at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Then it retreats to the wild west coast of the South Island where acclaimed cinematographer Alun Bollinger reflects on his diverse life and career. Also featured is the first 'proper' exhibition of Illicit artists on K' Road, (featuring the late Martin Emond) and a visit to small town Mangaweka, setting for Michael Reihana's surrealist short film Little Gold Cowboy.
This early episode from the award-winning arts series drops in on the Urale sisters — directors Sima and Makerita and publicist Maila — in the living room of their Lyall Bay fale. The prolific Samoan-Kiwi siblings visit local haunts, discuss work, and brother Bill (aka King Kapisi) is mentioned in dispatches. Other Kiwi creatives featured include 'nu jazz' practitioner Mark de Clive-Lowe playing at Cargo in London; designer Ross Stevens building his challenging Happy Valley shipping container conversion; and Cannons Creek beatbox king Dougie B breaking it down.
These excerpts from arts show The Living Room mark an early screen appearance for "jungle folk comedy duo" Flight of the Conchords. Starting in Wellington and building to performances at the 2002 Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the item sees longtime colleague Taika Waititi playing the duo's wisetalking manager, pre Rhys Darby. After meeting Jonah Lomu at the airport, dreams of fame face cramped digs and the intense competition of Edinburgh. The duo handle things with their droll resolve. The following year the Conchords were nominated for a Perrier Award, en route to stardom.
A magazine show with an edge, The Living Room did for arts television production what Radio With Pictures did for NZ music — it ripped open the venetian blinds, rearranged the plastic-covered cushions, and shone the sun on Aotearoa’s homegrown creative culture. Often letting the subjects film and present their own stories, it was produced for three series by Wellington’s Sticky Pictures, who also made follow-up arts showcase The Gravy. These excerpts from the first series show a calvacade of local talent, including an early Flight of the Conchords screen outing.
Produced by Greenstone Pictures, Mercury Lane was a story-driven arts show that screened late on Sunday nights on TV One, from 2001 until 2003. Each hour-long episode of this 'front-person free' show included a cluster of short documentaries covering a wide range of subjects including poetry, visual art, music and performance.
Director Sima Urale's follow-up to her Venice-winning short O Tamaiti swaps a Samoan child's eye view for that of an elderly Pākehā couple. In this moving confrontation with the taboos of aging, the husband struggles to care for his ailing wife and refuses their children's demands that they move into care. Exquisite attention to details and tender performances mark this tale of love accommodating the reality of death. Still Life was the first Kiwi film to take the top short award at the Montreal Film Festival; it also got a Special Mention at the Locarno fest in Switzerland.
The award-winning promo for the debut single by hip hop artist King Kapisi (Bill Urale) is a family affair: bookended by shots of his two-year-old son, directed by his sister Sima and produced by another sister, Makerita. The song is a plea to his Samoan people to remember their pre-colonial past: “feed your kids not the church”. Filmed underwater at Wellington’s Kilbirnie Aquatic Centre, the video has islander Kapisi swimming through a sea of lava-lava. It won gongs at 2004’s BFM, Mai Time, and Flying Fish awards and an NZ On Air 1000 Music Video Celebration nod.
Skitz was a popular long-running sketch-based comedy that ran for four series from 1993 to 1997. This selection of excerpts contains sketches from the final season of the Gibson Group satirical show famous for its broad, take-no-prisoners humour, and memorable characters and catchphrases. The wacky Semisi family and their 'fresh off the boat' antics inspire mirth and groans in equal measure and filmmaker Sima Urale is enjoyably ludicrous as the terrifying Aunty Mele. Jemaine (Flight of the Conchords) Clement and members of the Bro' Town posse also feature.
A homage to Dusky Maiden images as well as a playful take on the low art of velvet painting, Sima Urale’s Velvet Dreams provides a tongue-in-cheek exploration of Pacific Island stereotypes. Part detective story, part documentary, an unseen narrator goes in search of a painting of a Polynesian princess that he has fallen in love with. Along the way he meets artists, fans and critics of the kitsch art genre, as well as the mysterious Gauguin-like figure of Charlie McPhee. Made for TVNZ's Work of Art series, Velvet Dreams played in multiple international film festivals.
This episode of Immigrant Nation features former Holidaymakers guitarist Pati 'Albert' Umaga, part of the first generation of New Zealand-born Samoans. Umaga's parents arrived in Wellington in 1950 as part of Samoa's Great Migration. Encouraged to speak Samoan at home, and English outside the house, Umaga drifted away from his family and culture, before finally coming to the realisation that Fa-a Samoan - The Samoan Way - has much to offer him in how he operates in Kiwi society. Umaga goes on to use his music as a way to reach Samoan youth.
Swimming Lessons is the story of jaded swimming coach Jim Sadler (Marshall - Came a Hot Friday, The Navigator - Napier) and a spirited seven-year-old delinquent who comes under his instruction. The troubled Samoan boy is a potential champion, but the challenges of training him force the coach to confront his own failings in life: one as seemingly straight as the pool's lane line. Directed by Steve La Hood, Swimming Lessons won two NZ TV Awards. It screened as part of Montana Sunday Theatre and was the TV producing debut for Philippa Campbell.
Skitz was a popular long-running sketch-based comedy that screened for four series. Populated with memorable characters and catch-phrases, and broad, take-no-prisoners humour, it won Best Entertainment Programme at the 1996 NZ TV and Film Awards. A particular favourite in its arsenal of regular characters was the Semisi family with their 'fresh off the boat' antics inspiring mirth and groans in equal measure. Skitz featured seasoned comedians such as Jackie Clarke, as well as new faces at the time, including Jemaine Clement of future Flight of the Conchords fame.