Wāhine of Te Moananui-a-Kiwa celebrate new film 'Vai' in cinemas today

By Jessica Tyson
Writers and directors of Vai. Source: File

A film celebrating the women of Te Moananui-a-Kiwa, made by the creators of the critically acclaimed film Waru, is in cinemas for the first time today.

Producers Kerry Warkia and Kiel McNaughton say their ultimate goal with Vai is to "again give voice to an underrepresented community and spark conversation about the empowerment of women through culture.”

More than 750 people attended the premiere for the film on Tuesday night, which kicked off with a powhiri welcoming the nine female writers who each wrote one vignette of the film.

McNaughton says the ideas in the stories were to do with women leaving their birthplace and travelling to Aotearoa for a new start, but then reconnecting with their homeland at a later date.

The nine vignettes were filmed at islands including Fiji, Tonga, Solomon Islands, Cook Islands, Samoa, Niue and Aotearoa.

Each vignette follows the character Vai, played by different actresses at different stages of her life.

Marina Alofagia McCartney wrote and directed the Samoan vignette which was about “the bringing together of mind body and soul” through the ritual of dance, she says.

“I've tried to do this through an exploration of ancestral spirituality; so that we continue to be connected to our ancestors and they're not in the past, they, in fact, are our present if not our future.”

Marina Alofagia McCartney and Mikara Hendry Miss Tuvalu NZ 2018. Source: File

The Samoan vignette covers themes about disconnection and belonging, shown through Vai when she leaves her homeland to move to New Zealand and how she connects back to Samoa later in life.

“I think this is really the moment where Vai has to find within herself that strength of knowing that she's enough, that she's enough as a Samoan, she's enough as a woman and she's enough as a person regardless of where she is in the world,” says McCartney.

The film also covers challenges faced by people from Te Moananui-a-Kiwa, especially in the vignette written by Mīria George of Te Arawa, Ngāti Awa, Arorangi, Rarotonga and Areora.

In this piece, Vai stands up against a fishing fleet engaging in unsustainable practices.

“The Rarotonga film is about fishing and sovereignty over our waters but it's also very much inspired by conversation around Tino Rangatiratanga, which is something that we're talking about immensely back home at the moment, about the potential name of our islands.”

Hundreds of wāhine attended the premiere on Tuesday. Source: File

The film is in cinemas today and filmmakers hope it will empower females who watch.

“What I do hope is that maybe when they watch it they find something that resonates with them, something they understand,” says McCartney.

McNaughton says he hopes women feel inspired and feel an emotional connection to the characters.

“I hope they feel that they relate to the characters and either see themselves, their mother, their daughter, their grandmother in the characters.”