Fijian-Kiwi Lala Rolls has made "very short" films, and ambitious productions that span oceans and years. Large or small, her favourite projects often involve explorations of Māori and Polynesian culture.
Her work as a director and editor encompasses documentary, short films and music videos. Her films reflect an interest in exploring voices and cultures that can get drowned out by more dominant voices.
On the editing front, Rolls has been a multiple finalist at Kiwi awards ceremonies, including for acclaimed 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 to Australian and Dutch parents, Rolls immigrated to New Zealand in 1981 at age 17. It was "a huge cultural shift". Rolls studied psychology at Otago University, before her interest in film was sparked by the film courses at Victoria University. After graduating with a BA in Psychology, 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 Olives, which marked the screen debut of 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 I have worked on put together".
In 2005 Rolls directed quirky short Fish Out of Water, about attempts to escape 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, it was a finalist in the 2006 NZ Screen Awards for Best Children's Programme. QTV 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 festival 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, it 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 doco Flight of the Conchords: A Texan Odyssey.
By far Rolls' most ambitious project to date is Tupaia's Endeavour. Tracing the journey of Tupaia, the Tahitian who agreed to navigate for Captain Cook, this exploration of first contact was shot in Tahiti, Aotearoa and the United Kingdom. Made and funded in fits and starts over eight years, it combines interviews and reenactments — with Kirk Torrance as Tupaia — plus special imagery by Polynesian artist Michael Tuffery.
Tupaia's Endeavour exists in multiple forms, but Rolls sees the feature version — which plays in the 2020 NZ International Film Festival — as the culmination of the journey. She calls it "a big film with very little funding, but a big heart ... a rolling wānanga" which has grown to incorporate new discoveries and interviews. An extended early cut screened in Gisborne in 2016, helping bring attention to Tupaia, who has often been sidelined in previous tellings. The following year, a television version of Tupaia's Endeavour was completed for Māori Television. Rolls also directed an hour-long version for French Polynesia, which won the International Jury Prize at Tahitian festival FIFO.
Elsewhere, Rolls worked with musician Charlotte Yates on Tuwhare and Ihimaera. In 2005 Rolls directed and cut a short documentary on late poet Hone Tuwhare, and helped create the multimedia material used in Yates' Tuwhare concert. Another 'music and writer' collaboration, Ihimaera, followed in 2011. Rolls' documentary mixes interviews with varied musical contributions inspired by Witi Ihimaera's lyrics.
Rolls has also edited many projects for others. Among them are documentaries Cowboys and Communists (about a bar in Berlin), The Man in the Hat (art dealer Peter McLeavey), Te Hono ki Aotearoa (as co-editor; about a legendary waka), and 2018's Celia, about late equality advocate Celia Lashlie. Rolls also cut 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 joined with fellow filmmakers, artists and philanthropists to create a media trust, Major Arc, in order to "tell real good stories". She also teaches documentary making at Victoria University.
Profile updated on 24 June 2020
'The little known story of Tahitian navigator, Tupaia' (Interview) Radio New Zealand website. Loaded 28 July 2017. Accessed 31 July 2019
Major Arc website. Accessed 3 March 2020
'Lala Rolls' Emerging Artists Trust website. Accessed 3 March 2020
'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
Tupaia's Endeavour press kit