Cast: 'Ar-Ramadi Longopoa, Agnes Pele, Betsy Luitolo, Eviota-Rose Araiti, Fiona Collins, Hinetu Dell, Maliaga Erick, Mereani Tuimatanisiga
Official Selection, 2019 Berlin International Film Festival
Official Selection, 2019 SXSW Film Festival
“We sweat and cry salt water, so we know that the ocean is really in our blood.”
From the producers of Waru, a project that seems impossible on paper is gorgeously realized in VAI. The lifelong journey of one woman is interpreted in successive chapters by nine Pacific female filmmakers, with eight indigenous actors playing Vai, each on a different Pacific country: Fiji, Tonga, Solomon Islands, Kuki Airani (Cook Islands), Samoa, Niue, and Aotearoa (New Zealand). Gorgeous and stirring, this multiplicity in front of and behind the camera sinks deep into the bones, in an end result of profound cohesion through plurality.
VAI begins with a bubbly 7-year-old on Fiji about to leave her home country for New Zealand. The film then takes us through many Vai’s–including a 16-year-old fishing in the Solomon Islands with an absent mother she longs for, a college-aged Vai juggling New Zealand systems, a 30-something on Cook Islands resisting development, and 40-year-old Samoan Vai who struggles with a ceremony she has forgotten after time away. The silent tension throughout is New Zealand’s complicated relationship to the Pacific Islands, a force that pulls Vai back and forth from home for education, jobs, or to protect her land.
Languorous single takes throughout each segment become a single thread sewing through the eight stories. This is more than technical flexing. The sum effect is a cinematic form of matrilineal legacy, with many Vai’s layered into the next, and a throughline akin to looking down a kaleidoscope–as one thing explodes beautifully into many.