The anthology movie, such as Paris, Je T’aime and its follow-ups, New York, I Love You, Berlin, I Love you, and others, has become an established sub-genre. Each segment in such a film is directed, and usually written, by a different filmmaker, interpreting the film’s theme from his own perspective. In that tradition, New Zealand is hosting the production of an anthology or ‘portmanteau’ film with the theme of female empowerment, from the unusual viewpoint of indigenous women of the Pacific Islands.
The feature, entitled Vai (the central character’s name in each segment, the word Vai also means Water), presents a series of episodes written and directed by female filmmakers from the various Pacific nations, each representing their own nation, culture, and background. The theme in each case is empowerment through culture, shown through the life experience of a woman, who is seen in each segment at a different stage of her life, from childhood through old age. Water is meant to be a unifying theme throughout the film.
Vai was inspired by the producers’ 2017 anthology film, Waru, which consisted of a series of vignettes dealing with the life of Maori women. The production team commented that “the goal with Vai was to bring underrepresented voices to the fore and tell a story of female empowerment through culture which is inclusive of as many Pacific Island cultures as possible.”
Vai’s world premiere was at the 2019 Berlin Film Festival, and its first North American showing is in March at the South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, Texas.
The nine vignettes, named after the cultures represented in each, are:
- Fiji, directed and co-written by Fijian stage actress and acting coach Nicole Whippy, deals with a seven-year-old girl preparing to leave her home country of Fiji, perhaps forever.
- Tonga, written and directed by Tongan women’s rights activist Ofa-Ki-Levuka Guttenbeil, tells the story of a girl of thirteen, whose ambitions are thwarted by the burden of daily survival.
- Solomon Islands, which portrays the small conflicts between a teenaged girl and her mother while on a fishing trip, written and directed by illustrator, animator, television director, and filmmaker Matasila Freshwater
- New Zealand-born Samoan, directed by award-winning Samoan/Maori filmmaker Amberley Jo Aumua, tells the story of a new university student, struggling to find her way in a system that was not made for her.
- Cook Islands, portrays a woman finding her courage and voice as an activist, directed by writer, theatre producer, and novice filmmaker Miria George.
- Samoa deals with an expatriate woman returning to Samoa after many years, and trying to reconnect with important aspects of her culture. Written and directed by documentarian and Pacific Studies instructor Marina Alofagia McCartney.
- Niue, directed by Niuean playwright, actress, and filmmaker Dianna Fuemana, deals with a woman hoping to give her granddaughter the best possible advantages in life, even if it means leaving their beloved island.
- Aotearoa portrays an elderly woman participating in a traditional naming ceremony for her great-granddaughter. Written and directed by New Zealand-based filmmaker Becs Arahanga.