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The Department of Pacific Affairs’ PhD students come from across Australia and the region. Meet Eliorah Malifa who is doing a thesis on filmmaking in the Pacific.
Tell us a little about your background
I am Samoan. I was born in Dunedin, New Zealand and migrated to Australia in 1992. We’ve been living in Sydney ever since and I am now based in Canberra.
What is the topic of your thesis?
Hollywood in the Pacific: Developing sustainable film and television in the Pacific. Basically I’m looking at the experiences of Pacific filmmakers in producing their stories and what the challenges and enablers are for this. From this research I hope to develop theories around how to develop and sustain screen industry in the Pacific.
How has DPA helped you in your research?
DPA is the reason I am actually conducting the research. While I had thoughts about Pacific film and television and what this could look like as an industry in the past, I had not actually envisioned what it would look like for me to develop these thoughts into a cohesive research proposal. Through the help of my supervisors in the Department of Pacific Affairs, I have been able to do this, as well as travel and create templates for activities that create opportunities for industry and skill development in the Pacific.
What made you choose filmmaking as a topic for your thesis?
I actually went to film school and realised while there that production was my forte. So while others were amazing at lighting a room impeccably, or amazing at camera angles, I was really just amazing at making sure everyone arrived to set on time and did everything needed on budget. Eventually I just parlayed this into festival production. As part of our festival we’re usually trying to encourage community outreach and skills development. When we tried to do this in the region it was actually quite hard because the film or screen industry in the region is quite undeveloped. So, I chose to do some research on it.
Apart from your thesis, what are the other things that keep you busy?
I am co-Director of the Pasifika Film Fest, which keeps me very busy. This year, which is our ‘off year’ - we only produce the festival every second year - we have still had a number of pop up screenings, mostly in Sydney with one in Papua New Guinea. We have also been visible at film festivals all over the world. I was an advisor on the Native section at the Berlinale International Film Festival. As a festival we also attended Sundance where we ran a small community festival in Salt Lake City for 3 of the days of Sundance’s wider festival programming. Elsewhere we just completed a 48-hour film challenge as part of the Native Lens Film Festival in the Solomon Islands and have been assisting the team of the film ‘For My Fathers Kingdom’ to produce Australian screenings and Q&As of their film coming up in November. Outside of that it’s mostly family, friends and PhD.
Who are some filmmakers from Pacific Island Countries that you look up to?
Ofakilevuka Guttenbeil Likiliki, Dionne Fonoti, Taika Waititi (obviously), Chelsea Winstanley, Stallone Vaiaoga Ioasa, Karin Williams, the list goes on and on
Is there a message that you would like to give to young aspiring filmmakers in the Pacific?
They’re already doing it, I don’t really think I need to inspire them to be honest. Maybe the one thing I would say is that you can make a living out of screen work, it’s going to be difficult in the beginning but you definitely can. In the meantime if you have a project you want to work on because it’s close to your heart, just do it whatever it takes.
DPA boasts the largest and fastest growing Pacific-focused doctoral program anywhere in the world. DPA’s PhD program is a vibrant community of researchers pursuing some of the most important long-term research questions relevant to Melanesia and the broader Pacific. For more information the program please click here.