Film Festival aims to create more awareness and empathy

The third Pacific Human Rights Film Festival starts tomorrow at the University of the South Pacific’s Japan ICT Performance Theatre in Suva with an important film about rugby in the Pacific. 

The opening film is Oceans Apart, which will be screening in Fiji for the first time.

Festival Director, Ben Wheeler, says this year’s festival focuses on women’s rights and the rights of the child. 

“We start off looking at human rights in Pacific Island rugby, which is very, very interesting and a very charged conversation at the moment,” says Wheeler. 

Former Samoan and international rugby player, and Oceans Apart director, Dan Leo, will be in Suva for the screening.

“He has been an advocate for human rights of Pacific Island rugby players all around the world,” says Wheeler.

After the screening, Leo will be joined by former Fijiana 15s captain, Lailanie Burnes and former Fijiana 15s players, Eleina McDonald and Mere Moto, to talk about the issues raised.

“I’m really excited about the buzz around the rugby film, and having real Fijian-facing content,” Wheeler says.

He states that each film aims to raise awareness on issues that “people don’t always feel comfortable talking about”. 

“Without this kind of visibility and knowledge and understanding about what these issues are, it can be very hard for Pacific rugby players, for Indigenous voices, for any marginalised group, any group that doesn’t find that it has a voice around the world, to express themselves and their stories.”

Ben Wheeler
Ben Wheeler

Other films to look forward to include: A Boy Called Piano, “which is a New Zealand film about the historical internment of young Pacific and Maori boys in detention centres in the 60s and 70s of the 20th century, and the trauma of that experience inflicted upon these young boys,” explained Wheeler. The film was directed by Fijian playwright, Nina Nawalowalo, who will also be attending the event. 

Sina Ma Tinirau; “Vilisoni Hereniko, who is a Rotuman filmmaker, has made a film called Sina Ma Tinirau, which is based on a very important and widely known story. It won the LA Critic Short Film Award about six months ago.

“Another friend of the festival is Tumeli Tuqota and his first film, You The Choice of My Parents, is a very beautiful film, and I think it matches with the vibes and the theme of the festival. 

There will be more than 15 films screened between November 4 till December 9 as part of the festival and “these are films that you would not see at the cinema commercially,” said Wheeler. “You can’t find the majority of them on any streaming services, so it’s really exclusive content… and they are designed to be accessible to as many people as possible.”

The screenings are free to attend, and you don’t need to register in advance.

Wheeler says 80% of the screenings will have subtitles and the event tends to have “very strong turnouts”. The festival is also virtual, so USP campuses around the Pacific will participate.

Schools are also encouraged to attend.

“We’ve focused on tertiary level education before, and we’ve decided collectively that this is something we can send out into schools and start educating people a bit earlier on some of these really important issues,” Wheeler says.

The free events will also showcase dance and theatre performances from Moana Loa, poetry readings from The Poetry Shop, and music from ManaVa Performance Centre.

“We want to invite everyone. We want people who have a desire to learn about these things, that perhaps don’t have any access to areas or venues where they can learn these things…and to get people talking, because I think it can help everyone to build empathy, which is what we need more of in this world,” said Wheeler.

The Pacific Human Right Film Festival is organised by the Pacific Community (SPC) and is supported by a number of partners.

-Kite Pareti

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