My second day of imagineNATIVE was one where all themes led to discussions of language. I started off my day at a fantastic panel with nine of our 16 Maori delegates on Indigengous Media Art in Aotearoa (New Zealand). ImagineNATIVE decided to have a Maori Spotlight this year due to the seemingly seamless integration of Maori cinema into NZ film production. There are hopes that the Moari delegates can aid Canadian Indigenous filmmakers who are bursting with ideas but often struggle for funding. When asked why he thought the film industry was so successful in Ateaora, filmmaker Tainui Stephens mentioned the traditional languages of the Maori. Although they differ, all groups can find a common linguistic ground, from which to understand each other. This is a metaphorical unifier above all else, one that allows Maori cultural producers to unify on their issues despite large personal differences.
- Boy, imagineNATIVE’s 2012 opening movie produced by Maori delegate Ainsley Gardiner
In reality, only one in four Maori have knowledge of their traditional language. Our delegates were quick to point out that this statistic is on the rise due to education and the establishment of specific language schools and a renewed interest in tradition that may be owed in a large part to a surge in Maori-generated film and television production. Stephens also told an anecdote where he observed a young mother speaking with her child in Maori in a video store and was astounded to when the white store clerk addressed them in Maori also. This touched on a point that several of the delegates mentioned about the process of making Maori visible through pop culture. These folks are uncompromising and set a tone for their industry by supporting new talent as a community and continually pushing work that deals with Maori issues. Producer Ainsley Gardiner and writer/director Briar Grace-Smith both mentioned theatre as a possible takeover platform that allowed Maori cultural production to develop in a way that was true to their creative goals, or ‘imaginings’ as Grace-Smith called it.
I am endlessly astounded by the tight budgets cited by the filmmakers of imagineNATIVE and the beauty with which the films are executed. I later went to see BayBayin (The Script), a spectacular film by Kanakan Balintagos, a director from Palawan, the Western-most province of the Philippines. Again the focus was on language lost as two half-sisters, parted by their mother’s death, reunite in their native land. The sisters, along with their deaf friend, are the only ones who have maintained knowledge of their pre-colonization language of Baybayin. The film is about stillness, balance and the clarity that comes with the reclamation and preservation of identity. One audience member compared the aesthetic of Baybayin to Gauguin’s Polynesian studies as the movie had so much emphasis on framing and colour.
Balintagos gave a q&a after the film in a full three-piece suit with shimmering gold details and matching bowtie. The audience let out a audible gasp when he retold, with a sweet smile, that he shot on location in Palawan over a span of 15 days with a crew of 20 people, several of which also featured in more minor roles. His budget was 75,000. The film is one of the most beautiful I have ever seen in terms of artistry, but I believe what truly make Baybayin so involving is this theme of ancestry and the idea of preservation of for what all intents and purposes could be paradise.