Just announced! Three celebrated screen storytellers have been awarded prestigious arts laureateships from the Aotearoa New Zealand Arts Foundation. Here they are!
Filmmaker Sima Urale is influenced by her Samoan heritage and her experience of living in urban New Zealand. Her films include O Tamaiti, Still Life, Coffee and Allah and Apron Strings. This year, she won the New Zealand Film Commission’s annual gender scholarship for Pacific island screenwriters, with a sample script from her feature film, Solo, which according to the assessors “is breathtaking in its fine detail and slow build-up of nuanced tension. The work of an expert screenwriter at the height of her powers. The voice is original and authentic with detail that can only come from lived experience.”
Sima started her career as an actor, quickly realised she wanted to write and create her own work and credits her distinctive aesthetic to her start in theatre and love for art. She says “I’m really privileged to do what I do … I always feel thankful because I get to tell stories and express myself in the most public way … I have a say about society. If I’m angry about something, I can write about it and tell a story.”
Sima mentors other filmmakers, citing one of her most fulfilling experiences as teaching a Samoan entrepreneur. “A guy wanted to start doing commercials and had never done anything like that. So I showed him how … with a little camera and a group of village men. Every year I went back it got bigger, I upskilled them and showed them different techniques. He grew a really big company. It’s really fulfilling training the discipline to other people that don’t have the option of going to film school. You’re making an impact.”
Her goal is to “make films until the day until the day I die. It doesn’t matter if I had a big hit last year, you still need to get the next one off the ground … we’re constantly learning until the day we die.”
Sima has been the recipient of several international awards, as artist in residence at Hawaii University, McMillian Brown Center at Canterbury University, and the COCA arts residency at Massey University. Sima is currently developing various feature length projects with producers and hopes to embark on another feature film in the near future whilst taking care of her elderly mother.
Coco Solid/ Jessica Hansell
Coco Solid aka Jessica Lee Hansell is a musician, writer and artist. Her work includes the documentary Heaven’s Gate, TV series Ahikāroa, animated TV series Aroha Bridge, and her album Cokes.
Coco Solid works across many disciplines saying: “I had to work out where I find myself thriving and inspiring others the most … the different realms where that sense of self was strongest and most potent. They happen to be in the creative medium and I try and work just on those.” She speaks about her determination to speak truth to power and says her kaupapa is to radicalise every context that she works in. “Whether that’s deluded or optimistic or ambitious, I don’t think about that … I come in with an intention and I see how far I can get.” Musically she’s adopted a DIY underground ethos outside industry structures, and cites the autonomy this has given her as high-risk high-reward. Recently she received her Masters in Creative Writing, and was named the 2018 recipient of the Fulbright-Creative New Zealand Pacific Writer’s Residency.
She sees her success as collective, a victory that belongs to everyone that has championed her on her journey. In a 2018 interview with the Guardian she said: “In my world you’re only as good as those you helped to amplify … Generally Polynesian artists understand our obligations and responsibilities to those coming after us … Our cultures discourage individualistic legacies that western culture rewards: if you tried that you’d get shit-talked pretty fast.”
A couple of years ago, Jessica created Equalise My Vocals, a unique and significant series of events to promote gender conversations and equality in NZ music.
The three series of the much-loved Aroha Bridge are available here; Jessica is its creator, one of the writers and one of the directors. The second series of Ahikāroa (written by Jessica and Todd Karehana and directed by Hanelle Harris of Baby Mama’s Club and Kiel McNaughton) is available here.
Pietra Brettkelly is a documentary filmmaker who identifies insatiable curiousity as the defining feature of her work. Her work has been featured in the Sundance, Berlin, Venice and Toronto film festivals. Her most recent documentary, Yellow is Forbidden is based on Chinese designer Guo Pei’s journey to become part of the world of Haute Couture in Paris.
Pietra attributes her creative drive to her parents: “the big thing that my parents gave to me, was this view to wonder at the world, wonder about everybody, and how we all fit together … And to look beyond myself and to wander and wonder.” When she looks back at her career, the catalyst for her work has been her tenacious commitment to gaining access to her subjects, saying: “If I can get in front of anybody, I can convince them.”
She’s drawn to themes of isolation, the complexity of life, and celebrating the extreme. Describing her work as a calling: “I very rarely get paid …It is bloody hard. It’s really hard. And you know, I feel like I rip out my heart with each film. I hold it in my hand and offer it to investors, to supporters, to the first audience at my first screening, and it is the most exposing thing … So for an organisation, and for a group of my peers, to have said we want to acknowledge you makes me quite emotional. Because this work can be quite solitary.”
(Text supplied mostly by the Arts Foundation.)