The third round of Stuff's Short Film Season features Sima Urale's debut short film O Tamaiti. Beautifully shot in black and white, the film tells the story of a young Samoan boy who is expected to play guardian to his siblings.
As his parents struggle in their new country, he is overwhelmed by the responsibility. When faced with his grief, the adults fail to recognise his pain. Poignant attention to details that convey a child's perspective saw O Tamaiti win awards at film festivals around the globe, including the prestigious Silver Lion at Venice.
We caught up with Urale and asked her five questions:
Tell us about you - why did you get into making short films?
Short films are a wonderful medium, it challenges you to deal with story in a very short time frame, and makes you realise that there are other visual elements at play that can convey story, other than just dialogue. Short films are a natural stepping-stone to moving into longer format projects, so it's good to get a couple under your belt before leaping into feature length. Short films tend to be a lot more creative and experimental than the longer drama projects, so it's a great opportunity to push everything both stylistically and dramatically.
Why did you pick this story? What is it about?
I wrote this story as well, so you tend to get attached to the themes and characters when you are the Writer as well as the Director. The story was inspired by my own observations over the years, and attending various cultural community functions that my family would have to go to, like weddings and funerals. It always fascinated me how my people are so organized behind the scenes, and often, the children are as much a part of that organization with their own roles and chores they have to see to. Watching the children oversee other children is a natural part of the children's role, when their parents have to organize in the kitchen or serve the elders and community, and it's really amazing to watch. The story is a critical look at how my people do things, but at the same time, I can admire the way we do things and the strengths that come with it.
What were the greatest challenges in making this particular film?
I was very fortunate to have an amazing professional crew, particularly as it was my first short film out of film school! I really wouldn't have been able to cope and do it without the training to back me up. Film involves so many specialized areas, and film school helped me to recognize the importance of team work - that one really can't make a film alone. I would encourage anyone interested in film to take up a practical film course, because 'doing it' is very different from 'talking' about making films.
What films, filmmakers, animators or artists influenced you?
Too many films to mention, but a few of my favourite films are 'Santa Sangre', 'Bad Boy Bubby', and 'Once Were Warriors'. Then of course the usual suspects, like filmmakers Akira Kurosawa, Andrei Tarkovsky, Rolf de Heer and the brilliant Orsen Wells - what a man, and a stunning voice to go with it! My biggest influence would have to be my own background and my parents, because it's very hard to separate my own cultural and family influences from what I make on a stylistic level, creatively, as well as politically. The films and filmmakers I mention above, also clearly express their own unique cultural and environmental influences through their films - so I am not necessarily inspired or influenced by other filmmakers, but more a deep admiration for those that can express their own unique experience and stories through the film medium.
What do you know now that you wish you knew back then?
There is still so much to learn in the film industry, and that's what makes it so exciting - one can never know too much. Every project brings new challenges, so we are constantly learning new tricks, new skills, and all the while developing and learning. So to this day - I still have a ton to learn. The thing about making films is that it's really as much about relationships as it is about the technical and creative aspects. We are often dealing with new crew, new cast, and new challenges, so that team dynamic and navigating working relationships is something that can't be taught, but hopefully something that grows with confidence. If I knew everything, I think I would be completely bored.
Stuff's Short Film Festival is brought to our readers in cooperation with the NZ Film Commission and NZ On Screen.