13 September, 2017. Samoa – Legend Samoan author Maualaivao Albert Wendt has said, “We need to write, paint, sculpt, weave, dance, sing, and think ourselves into existence. For too long other people have done it for us…we have to write our own stories.”
Award-winning NZ Maori journalist, producer and filmmaker, Libby Hakaraia has spent much of her career doing just that.
The co-founder of the Maoriland Film Festival – an annual international event celebrating Indigenous voices and storytelling through film – said that the Festival celebrates the vibrant and diverse perspectives of Indigenous peoples, and allows a space for their voices and stories to be heard.
“When we get together and have a look at all those indigenous stories being shared, it makes us feel like we are not talking to ourselves and we are also being able to reach audiences together. It helps get our people mobilized to contribute in a meaningful way.”
Ms Hakaraia is currently in Samoa with a team of young Maori filmmakers running a film workshop at the High Tech Youth hub in Vaivase.
Speaking exclusively to Samoa Planet about her storytelling journey she said, ““When I left school, I was in seventh form at a Catholic Girls School. But I had decided that it wasn’t really for me.”
“At the time there was nothing that I was really interested in, except for travel and meeting people. I did a lot of speech and drama at school which I won me many awards, so I thought maybe that was something I could do.”
According to Ms. Hakaraia, she went on to undergo a trial period at a local radio station, after someone suggested she consider journalism.
“Because of my speech and drama training, they asked me to read the news. Reading the news was my entry point to journalism, and then I was taught by some really amazing people on-the-job.” She added with a laugh, “I have a lot of respect for newspaper journalists, because on the radio you can tell a story in 30 seconds.”
Ms. Hakaraia’s employment portfolio includes broadcasters like Radio New Zealand, ABC News and the Spanish National radio.
She said, “It was something I could travel with, I covered a lot of exciting and tragic events, but as a journalist, you know that you are in this kind of privileged position to be upfront and looking at a situation.”
“As a young person being put in that position, it got me into documentaries. I wanted to tell a long story, something that extended beyond a 30 second news broadcast.”
Ms. Hakaraia then moved into film.
Today she manages her Ōtaki-based production company, Blue Bach Productions, with her life-and-work partner Tainui Stephens.
“There have been times where I felt like ‘oh I don’t know enough’, or ‘these people know more than me because they’ve been to film school’, but I think it’s good to feel like that.”
“You have to be curious; you have to stay curious because that helps you from staying in just one place.”
“Most of the people I employ have come in the same way as I did; from what I’ve seen, the ones that have come through from film school tend to see things like this, and they can’t cope,” she says as she holds her hands in a box shape.
“It’s a struggle for them to do things that weren’t theoretical in film school and they enter the industry in a quite haphazard way. I see them really freaking out.”
“The industry is always moving, you have to be quick on your feet and able to make quick decisions.”
Today, she has numerous films under her belt, many of which were showcased at international film festivals such as the Auckland Arts Festival, Toronto Festival and the Sundance Film Festival.
In 2014, Hakaraia and Stephens, established the Māoriland Film Festival which attracts participants from abroad as far as the Sámi people of Northern Europe to indigenous people of North America, Asia and the Pacific.
She said, “The people might be from the snow and the ice, dressed in clothing made from reindeer skins, but the stories are the same.”
“The loss of language, loss of land, colonization, climate change, or being told you’re ‘dirty’ because you are a Samoan or whatever…all those issues are happening all over the indigenous world and it’s the indigenous people that are pushing back. ”
“For years, we (indigenous people) would congregate in other the parts of the world with our films, and it became pretty clear to me when we are overseas, that we needed a space to acknowledge these indigenous film makers.”
The Māoriland Festival is based out of the Māoriland Hub in Otaki. Māoriland also conducts associated programmes year-round such as the ‘Through our Lens: Filmmaking in Te Moananui a Kiwa’ which takes young Māori filmmakers to selected Pacific Island nations to collaborate and form bonds with local filmmakers.
The next Māoriland Festival is set for the 21-25 March 2018, for more information, visit the Māoriland website www.maorilandfilm.co.nz/
Reporter with Samoa Planet.