Fijian-Kiwi Lala Rolls has made "very short" films, and ambitious productions that span oceans and years. Whether small or large, her favourite projects often involve explorations of Māori and Polynesian culture.
Her work as editor and director encompasses documentary, short films and music videos. Her work in documentary reflects her interest in exploring voices and cultures that sometimes get drowned out by more dominant voices.
On the editing front, Rolls has been a multiple finalist at Kiwi awards ceremonies, including for drama series The Insiders Guide to Happiness and Rita Angus documentary Lovely Rita. She has cut drama for adults (The Strip) and teens (The Killian Curse), short films, corporate videos, and mixed media projects.
Born in Fiji, Rolls immigrated to New Zealand in 1981 at age 17, and found it "a huge cultural shift". She studied psychology at Otago University, before her interest in film was sparked by film studies at Victoria University. After graduating with a BA in Psychology and Education, she worked in early childhood education and travelled overseas, where she studied scriptwriting at London's Royal College of Art.
In 1992 she returned to Aotearoa. In 1994 she wrote and directed her first short film Olives, which marked the screen debut of actor Chelsie Preston Crayford. Thanks to Olives, she met Jamie Selkirk (longtime editor for Peter Jackson). She became a trainee assistant editor on Selkirk's next film, offbeat fantasy Jack Brown Genius.
Aside from the above, many of Rolls' screen escapades in the 1990s involved short films of various descriptions. In 1997 she made a self-funded series of six shorts in one, Tall Stories, which screened worldwide. She directed items for kids news show Wired, and music videos for Pacific Island bands in New Caledonia, Fiji, and Rapa Nui (Easter Island).
She also counts herself lucky to have helmed a number of community service and corporate videos in this period. Many involved small communities and Māori communities. Rolls argues that these projects "gave me a closer understanding of this country than all of the television shows that I have worked on put together".
In 2005 Rolls directed Fish Out of Water, about attempts to escape from the stresses of rush hour via the ocean. The short film was selected to travel worldwide with the WIFT (Women in Film and Television) International Showcase.
Rolls also played a big part in bringing children's science show QTV to the screen. Made by Rolls, Clare O'Leary and producer Glenis Giles, QTV was a finalist in the 2006 NZ Screen Awards for Best Children's Programme. It was used for many years as a resource by the Ministry of Education.
In 2004 Rolls directed feature-length documentary Children of the Migration. It follows the stories of children whose parents migrated from the Pacific to New Zealand from the 1950s to the 1980s. Rolls and fellow editor Owen Ferrier-Kerr began with 52 hours worth of interviews. After premiering at the 2004 NZ International Film Festival, Children screened at festivals in Tahiti and Melbourne, and got a Special Mention at DocNZ.
In 2007 Rolls directed, edited and co-produced Land of My Ancestors. The documentary explores the relationship of Māori artist Darcy Nicholas to the land and indigenous peoples. After premiering at the 2007 NZ International Film Festival, Land played at the London Independent Film Festival. That year Rolls was nominated twice for editing at the Qantas TV Awards: for ensemble drama The Hothouse, and documentary Flight of the Conchords: A Texan Odyssey.
Rolls' most ambitious project to date by far is Tupaia's Endeavour. Inspired by Captain Cook's Tahitian navigator Tupaia, this exploration of first contact was shot in Tahiti, Aotearoa and the United Kingdom. Made and funded in fits and starts over a six year period, the series combines interviews, reenactments — with Kirk Torrance playing Tupaia — and imagery by Pasifika artist Michael Tuffery.
Tupaia's Endeavour screened in three parts 2017 on Māori Television. Rolls also directed an hour-long French language version, which won the International Jury Prize at Tahitian festival FIFO. Rolls is completing a feature film version as well.
Elsewhere, Rolls worked with musician Charlotte Yates on Tuwhare; Rolls directed and cut a short documentary on the late Māori poet, and helped create the multimedia material used as part of the original Tuwhare concert. Rolls rejoined Yates for another 'music and writer' project — this time it was 2011's Ihimaera. Rolls' Māori Television documentary mixes interviews with performances by a range of musicians, inspired by lyrics from author Witi Ihimaera.
Rolls' work as an editor includes Jess Feast's bar in Berlin documentary Cowboys and Communists, Amanda Millar's feature doco Celia, about late equality advocate Celia Lashlie, and Roz Mason's Alone Against the Tasman, about an attempt to row solo between Australia and New Zealand.
Rolls is the founding director of company Island Productions Aotearoa. She has also joined with fellow filmmakers, artists and philanthropists to create a media trust, Major Arc, in order to "tell real good stories".
Profile updated on 31 July 2019
Major Arc website. Accessed 31 July 2019
'Lala Rolls' Emerging Artists Trust website. Accessed 31 July 2019
'Children of the Migration' - SPADA News, October 2004, page 10
Unknown writer, 'Tupaia's Endeavour makes landfall on Māori TV' WIFT website. Loaded 23 July 2017. Accessed 31 July 2019
'The little known story of Tahitian navigator, Tupaia' (Interview) Radio New Zealand website. Loaded 28 July 2017. Accessed 31 July 2019