There is something magical about sitting in a dark auditorium with 200 hundred strangers waiting to share the same experience.

Sitting along the same row as me, the filmmakers from the ten short films about to be shown. The nervous energy, verging on fear is palpable, bubbling up in some cases into stress reducing tears. We are all sat together at the 37th Hawaiian International Film Festival’s Pacific Showcase featuring films made by and starring First Peoples from the Pacific.  Included in this prestigious event are four of the six Pacific Shorts produced by the Commonwealth Writers.

One of the filmmakers, Glen Burua from Papua New Guinea, perches on the edge of his seat, arching his body as far forward as it will go without clashing heads with the person sitting in the row in front. I know it must be blocking the view of the person behind but there are no complaints. I squeeze the hand of Katherine Reki, also from Papua New Guinea, sitting beside me, whispering instructions for her to take deep breaths and enjoy, as she wipes away an excited and anxious tear. Ofa Guttenbeil from Tonga, nervously sits in between Glen and Katherine and completes the team of Commonwealth Writers filmmakers attending the festival.

“my first time in a cinema and it’s to see my own film”.

By the beginning of the third film Glen is relaxed enough to sit back in his seat. The enthusiastic applause and cheers after each film allows us all to physically express our delight in sharing stories that are seldom seen in the cinema. Stories that feature actors old and young, professional and non-professional. There are universal coming of age stories, stories of struggle and violence against women, stories about the environment and climate change. Each film is very different and told in the unique style of the filmmaker. But what ties the films together and makes the whole far greater than the individual parts is the clarity of the voices. Together the voices are magnified.

As the final credits role I am the one who is totally overwhelmed, wiping away a tear or two. Slightly dazed, the filmmakers make their way to the front for the Q&A, quietly congratulating each other as the applause continues. The questions and comments from the audience bring a whole new dynamic to the event. When Glen is asked about his film, he starts by sharing with the audience that this is not only his first film but is also the first time he has ever been in a cinema. ‘How ironic’ he adds, ‘my first time in a cinema and it’s to see my own film’.

‘It doesn’t matter how hard an artist works or how talented they are, they need development, funding, infrastructure and the venues to show the work.’

Amongst the warmth and enthusiastic congratulations in the audience there is a deep understanding that we have all truly shared an experience. We may prefer one film over another but we are all left wanting to see more films like these, hear stories like these and see faces like these on our screens.

It doesn’t matter how hard an artist works or how talented they are, they need development, funding, infrastructure and the venues to show the work. The Hawaii International Film Festival’s Pacific Showcase did what it set out to do, give a platform to new and developing filmmakers from the Pacific. Commonwealth Writers is working towards showcasing these films at other festivals and as part of other platforms so that these stories are seen and talked about by other audiences.

Pacific Voices is the culmination of a craft development programme by Commonwealth Writers which built on the success of the 2012 Commonwealth Shorts. For this project Commonwealth Writers focused on the Pacific, a region which is lacking in support and infrastructure for directors and writers who want to make films. Six writer/directors from Tonga and Papua New Guinea attended script development workshops with local script editors before developing their own scripts and shooting their own films, with the assistance of the New Zealand Production Company BSAG Productions. All of the films highlight stories and issues that they feel passionate about that affect their communities: find synopses and film clips here. All six films have also been selected for the Maoriland Film festival in New Zealand in March. 

Janet Steel is Programme Manager for Commonwealth Writers

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