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This year the Nuku'alofa Film Festival will be a five-day event, the biggest one yet, offering workshops and master classes from 21-26 October. Photo/Facebook

The five-day Nuku'alofa Film Festival is offering workshops and master-classes from 21-26 October. Photo/Facebook



‘Connecting Tonga with the world’: Entries open for film festival

Pacific filmmakers are being encouraged to submit their works as organisers seek financial support for this year's Nuku'alofa gala event.

Atutahi Potaka-Dewes
Atutahi Potaka-Dewes
10 June 2024, 8:09pm
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Entries to the Nuku’alofa Film Festival (NFF) are open and organisers plan to put on their biggest event yet.

To achieve this, they are actively formulating initiatives and seeking funding from key stakeholders, the government, and the public to bolster their efforts.

Festival director Sisi’uno Helu said the NFF unites filmmakers from across the Moana, connecting the Kingdom to the rest of the world.

“We have shown international films as far as India and from France, but we also have nights dedicated to Pacific films. Films from New Caledonia, mostly from New Zealand, all our young Pacific filmmakers there, and also from Vanuatu. And we encourage local filmmakers in Tonga to make films as well.

“So it has been very diverse, not only platforming or showcasing Pacific voices, but we also connect Tonga with the world and what's happening outside of Tonga and trying to bring all those films together.”

NFF kicked off in 2015 with an emphasis on the support for local talent, creativity, and storytelling through showcasing the content free of charge to the public.

Helu said the inaugural programme featured three short films directed by Jeremiah Tauamiti and Vea Mafile’o, retelling myths from Tonga and Samoa.

“They brought film gears … and filmed everything. I helped and in fact I acted in one of them.

“When all the post-production and editing was done, they wanted to share it with the community because a lot of people came out to help. (People) brought their mats and their koloa because one of the myths was about the ancient Tu’i Tonga Aho’eitu.

“And I suggested the idea that maybe we could start a film festival and share the films with the people of Tonga and it could be the beginning of a film festival for Tonga.”

The debut event attracted about 300 people, which led to the decision to make it an annual occasion.

Since its inception, the festival has grown to embrace a wide range of genres, themes, and production methods from fiction to documentary, contemporary issues to romance, and video to animation.

‘Aho’eitu’s brothers, witnessing the birth of the Nuku'alofa Film Festival NFF in 2015. Photo/NFF Facebook

‘Aho’eitu’s brothers, witnessing the birth of the Nuku'alofa Film Festival NFF in 2015. Photo/NFF Facebook

Funding a ‘free of charge’ festival

As the festival still works to maintain its cornerstone message of free-to-view films, some challenges NFF has faced over the years included restricted access to technical training and gear, advertising, and financial upkeep of an annual event.

This year, the ambition of holding a bigger festival comes with funding demands that have led to a fundraising campaign.

Helu said from the start it had always been about platforming Pacific stories without a budget, seemingly easier said than done.

“These are all done with no money…So that has always been the issue of where do we get the funding? How do we look for funding to produce this festival?

“This year we want sort of a facelift, a rebranding of the festival. And that comes with a demand for more funds and more money. So, yeah, the options are to crowdfund or approach government departments for funding.”

Future dreams for the organisation include linking up with other international film festivals. But for now, the aim is to foster local youth talents.

“And we're emailing people as well that we think will potentially help us produce the festival this year. Because we want a film competition for our high school students. And we also want to take writers and filmmakers from New Zealand to offer workshops to filmmakers in Tonga.”

With support from Creative NZ, the crowdfunding campaign kicked off last week with links via their Instagram and Facebook pages.

Pacific film industry

A plethora of Pacific films have featured in Aotearoa cinemas over the decades including Sons for the Return Home (1979), Flying Fox in a Freedom Tree (1989), Sione’s Wedding (2006), The Tattooist (2007), The Orator (2011), Three Wise Cousins (2015), Vai (2019), Take Home Pay (2019), and more recently Red, White & Brass (2023), and Next Goal Wins (2023).

That’s on top of numerous content released online and for television, often through the partnerships with mainstream or Māori platforms. So is visual Pacific storytelling succeeding?

Helu said filmmaking in the Pacific was “getting there”.

“I think people are slowly thinking about telling their own stories without having to ask for someone else to tell it on their behalf. And I think that has a long way to go. But I think it's at a very good point at the moment.

“Especially in New Zealand, a lot of young filmmakers are being encouraged or given the opportunity to just voice out their opinions and tell their own stories. Whereas before we'd always look for someone else to tell them first, or someone will come and tell the stories, because we didn't think of the need to tell our own stories back then.

“But yes, it's getting somewhere and I think it's going to just keep growing.”

Helu hopes more visual storytelling will be done entirely in Pacific languages as it’s “another way of preserving reo” while expressing cultural nuances that cannot be encapsulated in English.

“There (are) these delicate characteristics and other important elements to our stories that may not be able to be told in a different language or say in English. I've always wanted to see the stories told in our languages and then we can have subtitles.

“But that important part of storytelling, it needs to be done.”

Submissions for feature films, documentaries, student movies with a climate theme, and short films of any genre from the region and around the world are now being accepted.

Submission dates

  • Submissions open for all films: 3 June, 2024

  • Submissions close for all films: 16 August, 2024

  • Filmmaker notification: 2 September, 2024

Entry fees

  • Narrative and Documentary Features: $10USD excluding FilmFreeway fees.

  • Shorts (excludes Student Climate Shorts): $5USD excluding FilmFreeway fees.

  • Can be paid via FilmFreeway by using Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Diners Club, JCB, Discover, UnionPay, or PayPal.

  • Fees will not be reimbursed if not selected for the Festival.

Fee exemptions

  • All submissions by Tongan filmmakers will be exempt from entry fees

  • All Student Climate Shorts submissions will be exempt from entry fees

The Nuku'alofa Film Festival will be held from 21-26 October.