Wednesday 26 June 2019
Two films from sinking worlds - screening at Edinburgh International Film Festival
'The sea is what binds us, we cry and sweat salt tears'
A beautiful film about female empowerment and eco-consciousness, Vai is made up of segments directed by nine female Pacific filmmakers and shot in seven different Pacific countries: Fiji, Tonga, Solomon Islands, Kuki Airani (Cook Islands), Samoa, Niue and Āotearoa (New Zealand). It follows the life of Vai, played by a series of different indigenous actors in each of the Pacific countries, from a small child in Fiji through to an elderly woman in Āotearoa. In each nation, ‘vai’ means water in the local language.
Each segment of her story is fashioned by the culture of the island nation it is made in, but at the same time they all add together as steps on a universal female lifestory from young girl to grandmother. Water is always a strong presence - the search for drinking water, the power of the rain, the importance of fishing and the use of water from a sacred waterfall in a Maori naming ceremony.
Vai as she becomes older develops a real awareness of the importance of the oceans from finding trash in the ocean when she is fishing to studying eco-anthropology in New Zealand to protesting against unsustainable fishing practices. Surprisingly though there's no mention of climate change or rising sea levels which are great concerns in these island nations.
Vai always maintains her connections to her home island nation - she studies in New Zealand because she wants to go home to protect the ocean and then does exactly that. At the same time she respects the local traditions (though sometimes feels uncomfortable within them).
The film includes beautiful sequences around traditional ritual and celebrations. It's a celebration of female lives and Pacific cultures. But it would be improved still further by at least a mention of those rising seas.
NB: In this review I have used New Zealand to refer to the segment of the film where Vai is a Samoan student in New Zealand and Āotearoa to refer to the last segment of the film where Vai is a Maori grandmother, reflecting the way the country was named in the film.
Vai is nominated for the 2019 Award for Best International Feature Film and would be my choice to win this award.
Vai is screening as part of the Edinburgh International Film Festival at 1800, Friday 28 June at Odeon Lothian Road and at 1320 Saturday 29 June at Vue Omni. You can buy tickets here.
Another film in which rising seas are a constant unspoken presence is Venezia.
Sophia (Paula Lussi) is an Argentian wandering alone in Venice. She is drowning in grief, an emotional state that finds unspoken metaphor in the fact that Venice is sinking and in the tides of tourists flooding the city. It's visually beautiful, shot in muted colours to reflect the protagonist's state of mind. Most of the Italian dialogue in not given subtitles, to reflect that Sophia herself can't understand it (though as a Spanish speaker, surely she would be able to understand some Italian and respond in Spanish, which then the Italians would be able to understand if not speak? I don't speak Spanish but I understand a fair bit because I speak Italian).
Venezia has already had its two screenings at the film festival.
You can read my earlier reviews from Edinburgh International Film Festival 2019, by following the links below:
Boyz in the Wood a group of teenage boys get lost in the Scottish Highlands.
2040 - can technology offer solutions to our current climate and ecological crises?
Bait - Cornish fishermen try to adapt to a changing world
How to Fake a War (on my Shapeshifting Green blog) what happens when a rock star decides to meddle in international affairs?
Farm Animals on Film - featuring The Biggest Little Farm - an inspiring story of the creation of a sustainable biodiverse farm in California, plus Vulture, an experimental film about farm animals.
Virgin and Extra: Land of the Olive Oil.
Chef Diaries: Scotland - Spanish chefs the Roca brothers take the viewer on a culinary road trip round Scotland.
Up the Mountain - a year in an artists' studio in the Chinese mountains.
The Amber Light - a cinematic ode to Scotland's national drink
Aren't You Happy (on my Shapeshifting Green blog) - a writer searches for the meaning of life while not actually writing anything
The Deer - a Basque language film following two poachers in a national park on the outskirts of San Sebastien.
Hurt by Paradise - a poet keeps searching for a publisher and an actor keeps trying to get a role
Photograph (on my Shapeshifting Green blog) - a street photographer in Mumbai invents a fiancee for himself....
Endzeit - an ecofeminist road movie with zombies.
Disclaimer: I have a press pass for the film festival and attended a free press screening of these films.