17 Jun 2016
- By Vicente “Ben” Salas II - For Variety
Author’s Note: As a tribute to the theme of decolonization and indigenous cultural unity that was widely prevalent throughout FestPac 2016, I’ll be referring to most of the delegations by their indigenous names or names that promote and symbolize anti-colonial sentiment (where said names are available). For example, names such as Aotearoa, Guåhan, Kanaky and Belau will be used in place of New Zealand, Guam, New Caledonia and Palau respectively.
MY film Ayotte’:Way of the Warrior Poet was scheduled to make its FestPac premiere at the beginning of the first week. Unfortunately, a slew of technical mishaps caused a delay in the overall scheduling of Ayotte’ and several other films that were supposed to play. Thankfully, Aotearoa (New Zealand) delegate and Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision film archivist Lawrence Wharerau had a large enough collection of films from Aotearoa to fill the void for the next couple days. A cool fact about Lawrence is, in addition to being an archivist, he is also an indigenous rights activist and veteran actor of numerous Māori film roles and TV programs that were shot on location in his homeland.
The FestPac Filmmakers Symposium was held at Guam Community College on May 27. Co-hosted by GCC, Pacific Islanders in Communications and Secretariat of Pacific Communities, the symposium featured a luncheon and served as an open forum platform for filmmakers from all around the Pacific region to network and exchange information about each other’s film industries in their given area. Several prominent figures in the Pacific islands and Oceania region’s filmmaking and film festival scene attended the event. Among them were Guam International Film Festival’s Don and Kel Muña, SPC Cultural Advisor Elise Huffer, Pasifika Film Festival’s Eliorah Malifa and Guam Economic Development Authority’s Julius Santos. Ngā Taonga’s Wharerau was also present to provide insight from his many years working as a professional. All filmmaking entities who attended took turns speaking about their most recent film related endeavors and their specific films entered into the film festival. Topics of discussion ranged from why we as Pacific Islanders must strengthen network relationships between our islands to overcome the challenges of breaking into the global film industry, to how we can cooperatively assist each other’s efforts to develop our own self-sustainable island film industries. On the evening of that same day, Ayotte’ successfully had its first FestPac screening at the Guam Museum indoor theater. My friend, Guåhan (Guam) delegate, Steven LeFever’s film Hayi Gaitano Este? also made its FestPac premiere that night.
The next few days of Week 1 would go on to feature a plethora of brilliant films shot in locales such as Aotearoa, Rarotonga (Cook Islands), Samoa, Tonga, the Marianas, Hawai’i and Vanuatu just to name a few. Of the films that I was able to watch, I found Snow in Paradise and Adorn particularly powerful and emotionally stirring. Snow In Paradise is a dramatic narrative short based on real life nuclear fallout in the areas stretching from Rarotonga and Aitutaki to Tahiti and neighboring regions. The fallout was caused by decades of French military nuclear device testing at Mururoa Atoll which, to this day, has a negative impact on those islands’ ecosystems. Adorn is a documentary that can best be described as a Pacific islands version of Chris Rock’s Good Hair in the way that it touches upon stigmas of women’s hair styling practices within the Polynesian and Melanesian community. Gabrielle Fa’ai’uaso’s Ofa ma Alofa, a tale of young lovers from ancient warring Samoa and Tonga akin to Guam’s Two Lovers Point legend, and LeFever’s Hayi Gai, a philosophical take on socio-political issues facing Guåhan, were also very intriguing films.
Week 2 kicked off on May 30, Memorial Day Monday, at the Guam Museum outdoor theater. It featured a showcase dubbed “Memorial Māori Movie Monday” in honor of a specific lineup of socially conscious films from Lawrence’s archives which chronicled indigenous Māori rights activism throughout the years. My media colleague Leni Leon’s film showcase took place the day after, again at the outdoor theater. Although lacking the amenities of air conditioning and cushy theater seats, screening films at the outdoor theater had its own unique perks. Passersby who were walking to and from their cars to the Paseo area would stop to watch out of curiosity and end up getting lured in by the equal parts informative and entertaining subject matter of the films. Another plus was that there was virtually no space limitation at the outdoor courtyard due to fire safety codes like with indoors. Even a bonus screening of Ayotte’ was inserted into Leni’s lineup for good measure.
The next day, June 1, was the Marianas films showcase which consisted of a combination of re-screenings and premiere screenings of films by Marianas based filmmakers. Films showcased included Ayotte’, Hayi Gaitano, Gerry Cruz’s Hafa Iyo-ta, Kyle Perron and Nico Serneo’s I Matai, and even Alex Muñoz’s Duendes Gone Bad. Duendes, a product of LA based Chamorro filmmaker Muñoz’s Films By Youth Inside program, is a satirical horror-comedy shot in the style of a “mockumentary.” It was co-written, directed by and starred youths from inside the Division of Youth Affairs correctional facility in Mangilao, Guåhan. Having already been entered into various other film festivals, it was definitely one of the higher profile releases at FestPac. I had a special affinity for this production having previously worked as a co-instructor in one of the earlier FYI workshops in 2009. It was extremely uplifting for me to see the program still going strong and providing troubled youth with filmmaking as a positive alternative to crime life and substance abuse. At the conclusion of the showcase, the directors and available representatives of each film took to the stage for the question and answer segment.
Other highlights of my film festival experience included the Muña Bros.’ critically acclaimed Talent Town, a documentary about the long existing but often under-recognized talent scene on Guåhan, Sarah Filush’s Beat the Beetle documentary about Guåhan’s growing rhinoceros beetle problem and Te Matakite a Aotearoa, a historical documentary on Māori rights activism. I thoroughly enjoyed every film that I was fortunate enough to catch and my only wish is that I could have seen them all.
Traditional Seafaring roots
I remember while growing up, my father would share stories with me about our relative, on our Satawalese side, the legendary master navigator Mau Piailug. I was deeply moved when I watched a documentary in 2011 called Papa Mau: The Wayfinder which told the story of how Mau had helped Hawaiians rediscover their once lost navigating and seafaring roots. By mentoring top Pacific islander navigators, such as Nainoa Thompson, Mau had set the precedent for ensuring that the practice is passed on to future generations.
Thanks to Mau’s legacy, the last couple of decades have seen a resurgence in the practice of traditional proa (outrigger canoe) building and sailing all throughout Oceania. From Aotearoa to the outer islands of Truk (Chuuk) and Wa’ab (Yap), to even the Chamorro diaspora communities in the U.S., more and more groups have put forth concerted efforts to bring back and preserve the art of traditional sea voyaging. Groups such as Ron Acfalle’s Guåhan-based Ulitao, which was featured in the documentary American Soil, Chamorro Soul, are doing an exceptional job of keeping the practice alive. At FestPac, I witnessed firsthand how Ron involves all of his children, from his youngest to his oldest, in various aspects of the building and sailing process.
As I roamed the Tatasi beachside where the proa sailing arts were being exhibited, I came across many other proa groups besides Ron’s Ulitao. Among the other groups were Mario Borja’s CHE’LU (Chamorro Hands In Education Links Unity) stateside Chamorro diaspora group with their proa the Sakman Chamorro, Guåhan based TASA (Traditions Affirming our Seafaring Ancestry) which is mentored by Mau’s son Tony Piailug and TASI (Traditions About Seafaring Islands), the Satalawalese and Puluwatese crews that voyaged from their home islands, and the crew of the Belau (Palau) based double-hulled proa Alingano Maisu. The Maisu was captained by Mau’s other son, Sesario Sewralur. It was constructed in Hawai’i by Mau’s Hawaiian protégés, based on Mau’s own designs and gifted to Mau’s family as a way of honoring their father.
The aforementioned groups had all taken part in the opening day canoe welcoming ceremony. As is ancient tradition, proas from the visiting islands were welcomed inside the reef by proas from the Marianas. It should also be noted that the Satawal and Pulowat crews were not the only ones who sailed the open ocean to Guåhan via traditional method. The Alingano Maisu’s original point of embarkation was Belau. It made landfall on Saipan before eventually sailing to Guåhan for FestPac. I had also seen footage and pictures of the man supposedly from around the Papua New Guiea or Torres Strait area, off the coast of Australia, who was said to have traveled to the ceremony on a traditional raft. I myself did not see him in person as my attention was focused on the proas. Although I was never able to confirm the full details of this story, such an astonishing feat deserves acknowledgement.
To be continued