1. Can you describe the Pacific Stories project for us?
Pacific Stories is a project that will consist of a series of discussions, storytelling and filmmaking workshops held in Melbourne from Dec 2010 through to May 2011. Each participant is supported to develop and produce a short film exploring Melanesian identity. The project is facilitated by documentary filmmaker Amie Batalibasi and cultural diversity educator Lia Pa’apa’a.
The target group is Pacific Islanders living in Melbourne. In particular, we extend a special invitation to people of Melanesian (PNG, West Papua, Solomon Islands, Fiji, Vanuatu) ancestry as we believe that their current political, environmental and social situation requires particular attention.
A Pacific Stories Steering Committee of pacific islanders will guide the project and Multicultural Arts Victoria will provide additional support for the project.
We hope that participants will benefit by learning and exploring their past and marrying their traditional knowledge with modern digital mediums to find an empowering medium that allows for culturally appropriate and rich dialogue and storytelling.
2. When did you two first meet and start working together?
Amie: We developed a film project called My Story, My Place - Through the Lens, as part of an Artists In Schools residency. Lia was teaching at the Grange P-12 College in Hoppers Crossing, Melbourne and I came in as the artist. We worked together with a group of 12 year 5/6 students, who learnt filmmaking skills and then each produced a short film exploring their culture and identity. It was awesome and I think we made a good team so it made sense to do Pacific Stories together - especially because we both have pacific islander backgrounds.Lia: I was working with culturally diverse young people in the Western suburbs of Melbourne and had been developing different mediums that young people could express and investigate their cultural identity. Amie approached me through the Artist In Schools program and we were able to develop a film making project that was age appropriate and it worked really well. Not only did the participants learn about themselves, their family and their countries of origin but they were able to showcase their final works to their community at the "Red Carpet Premier." The screening engaged parents that had never been to the school before and gave a great sense of pride to everyone involved!
3. What are your island backgrounds?
Amie: My father is from the Solomon Islands. He is one of 12 kids so I have a whole village full of family back in the Solomons - my island home. I was born here though, and went to the Solomons for the first time when I was 13. It was quite a shock to meet all my relatives, hang out in Lilisiana - a traditional style village, paddle canoes etc... but now I go back as often as I can and I love it and it’s my island home. I miss it when I am over here. And I am very much, still growing in terms of learning about my culture and family and language. I also try to help my family and my people when I can. With the help of my good friends, we set up a little organisation called Pacific Community Partnerships (http://www.pacificcommunitypartnerships.org/Home.html) to provide help in any way we can eg. water tanks, education - basic things.
Lia: I have both Samoan and Tongan heritage from my mother and Native American/Mexican/Irish from my father. I was born and raised in Melbourne. Most of my family in Tonga have now relocated to NZ but I still have strong ties with my cousins in my village of Magiagi in Samoa. It has been a constant journey of self exploration and understanding around my identity and how I identify living in an urban context. I think many 2nd and 3rd generation Pacific Islanders are feeling the same and it is something that I am hoping to explore through this project.
4. Why is film making your preferred medium?
Amie: For me, it’s a natural instinct to document life - people, places, events, everything and anything. My dad gave me my first camera when I was 10 and from that moment on, I've always had a camera of some sort close by. I studied photography and art so filmmaking was a natural progression. But for me, really it’s not about film as such, it’s about storytelling - capturing stories and sharing those stories. I think that this is so important - in terms of family, history, education and also helping to create change around important issues. And film is a perfect vehicle to carry these stories and make this happen - right now, it’s such an accessible medium.
Lia: Although I am not a film maker myself (I am currently developing my skills in Weaving) I believe in the power of digital mediums. We are an oral culture that has passed down stories immemorial and now we have access to a technology that has the potential to enhance and preserve it. It is exciting to look at cross-platform ways of maintaining and passing on our knowledge systems and with the current group of participants that we have involved in the project which include educators, visual artists, academics, community arts practitioners and theatre & film producers we have an exciting chance to push our stories in ways that we might not have done individually.
5. Was storytelling a big part of your childhood?
Amie: That's an interesting question... It’s hard to answer really, but for me, I think I missed out a lot on learning the stories of my family in the Pacific as I was growing up - because I only went there when I was 13. I guess that’s why it’s so important for me now to capture the stories that my family have. When I go to visit, I always have my camera out. And I know that they think it’s important too because they understand that things are changing - people are getting old, climate change is affecting the village, the young people don't have as much access to the traditional ways... I think they see that it’s important to capture these stories so that they don't get lost - plus they always love watching videos and films of themselves!! We sometimes have screenings in the village and drag the generator out!!
Lia: Like Amie, it is hard to answer- I was always a book worm and read a lot when I was young and loved being taken away to different lands via the written word. I was raised with a single mother who had to work full-time to support us so we stayed with our Grandmother many weekends who would read us stories. As an Aunty of many today I try to incorporate as much "story-time" with my nieces and nephews as possible and challenge myself to tell stories about our family and my experiences and not just from books.
6. What are your favourite island stories?
Amie: My favourite island stories are the ones that my Dad tells me sometimes - without knowing it, he gets all excited and launches off on a story about what he used to get up to when he was younger and what life was like then back in the Solomons. Funnily enough, those are the stories I will probably never capture on film!
Lia: My favourite are of the stories of my Grandfather and his cheeky ways in the village as a young boy! I also love learning and reading about the great voyages that our ancestors took on canoes to travel throughout the Pacific Islands. I am filled with awe about the technologies and knowledge they had of the region- it is truly inspiring.
7. If you were sent to stay on a remote island for a year, what three non-essential items would you take with you?
Amie: I reckon I'd be pretty happy on that remote island without much else!... but I'd say my guitar, some good chocolate and a camera of some sort.
Lia: I would take my loving partner John, a notebook and some pencils to draw.
8. How has your work empowered Pacific Island people living in Australia?
Amie: Because we have just started, it’s hard to say too much. But personally, I feel that every time I sit in that room with the participants, I feel like it’s a safe space to share stories and to talk about the issues that we face as pacific islanders in Australia. At the very least, I think that what Pacific Stories provides - a platform and an opportunity to share Pacific Stories with other pacific islanders. This is a simple thing but very powerful in that it helps to keep our stories alive, our cultures strong and for us to be grounded in our pacific identities.
Amie: There aren't any projects as of yet but I see that this Pacific Stories project could be a great model that could be implemented anywhere really. Also we have had a great response on our Facebook group (http://www.facebook.com/pages/Pacific-Stories/162562773766940) and Pacific Stories Blog which means that even though this project is based in Melbourne we are reaching a wider audience who can also participate and share their own Pacific Stories by uploading photos, videos and contributing to the discussions.
Lia: I am definitely feeling like with the current group of participants, Pacific Stories could become the premise of many great (and needed) things in the future. I am also involved with the Pacific Women's Weaving Circle that one of our participants Lisa co-founded which I believe is going to gain legs over the next 12 months. My day job is as the Programs Manager for the Music Outback Foundation that delivers music education to remote Indigenous communities across three states. So always busy, but always looking for new exciting projects to get involved in!!