top of page

Fijian short film inspires next generation of Pacific climate activists at film festival

Mary Afemata, Te Rito Journalism cadet

Fijian climate activist Fenton Lutunatabua is no stranger to the climate change scene, having done environmental work since he was a teenager and throughout his youth.

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

However, this is his first time being a part of the world’s largest indigenous film festival, Maoriland where his short film Vakaraitaka had its world premiere.

The storyteller heard about how important the festival is for indigenous filmmakers.

His four-part visual poem touches on climate justice, climate activism and community organising in the Pacific.

As an activist and a community organiser, his project of love was born out of the Covid-19 pandemic and took three years to make.

“I dreamed about it for over a year...I really wanted to be in that space,” he said.

“So much of this film is about Pacific identity... it just makes a lot of sense that the world premiere would be at such a prestigious festival.”

Vakaraitaka means to reveal - the idea of how we uncover something.

“It’s often like who voices whose story. Often the climate activist story is a white story, right?”

Climate change is huge and real for the Pacific

Growing up in the climate movement, it was difficult for Lutunatabua to see himself in that space.

“It’s really hard. It’s also really hard to do activism whilst being deeply rooted in culture.

“As I near my forties, I really want to just be like: ‘Hey, this is my journey as a young indigenous man from the Fiji islands, who grew up in a predominantly white climate movement’.

“We’re in the climate space. We’re in this movement, we’re having these hard conversations and fighting these giant fights.”

The first poem is called Tinaqu = the Fijian word for mother.

“It’s an ode; like our elders and ancestors who have done the hard work protecting our homes and we inherit all the beautiful places that we call home from them.”

How do we hold on to hope as we hold on to grief?

Lutunatabua specifically wrote about his mothers and aunties; reminiscing about memories on their front porch on a mat.

His mother and her sisters would talk about where they used to go and bathe and pick guava and coconuts from.

“I was sitting there and just thinking about how important the place is to [our] story.

We were in this village, surrounded by family, surrounded by community and hearing so much of the past.”

The second poem is called Matagi Mālohi - Tokelauan for strong winds.

Bula friends, I’m excited to share with you all the trailer for my film “Vakaraitaka.” It’s a four part visual poem on climate justice… | Instagram

The third is called Kawa, the Fijian word for descendants. The fourth poem is Luvequ, which means child or son in Fijian.

“So it’s like storytelling and poetry and dance,” he says.

“The climate crisis is huge and real and we will lose a lot of important things.

How do we as Pacific people grapple with that? How do we still hold on to hope as we hold on to grief?”

Lutunatabua has done photography work and created social media content.

He shares his background in radio and his podcast Beyond the Narrative.

“I dabbled with different platforms and I think it’s time for me to push myself and challenge myself with film. I wanted it to also be multidisciplinary.”

He worked with the local Fijian dance group Wehi and renowned fashion designer KuiViti, who specifically works with masi (Fijian tapa cloth).

He also worked with a young man from Guam who scored the film.

“Everyone that touched the film had proximity to the Pacific.”

The places and locations shot are very important places for Lutunatuba.

He says when his son gets older he can show him the film, these places of significance and why.

“My wife and I eloped in the mountains and we got married in the mountains where we shot.”

All the props in the film have a special connection to Lutunatabua and were either owned by his mother, were gifted by a friend or had a cool background story.

“I wanted to represent different parts of my life as a climate activist and different gifts that I’ve been given from people across the Pacific and for my family.”

He hopes the next generation is curious and inspired to join the climate movement.

‘I’m really hoping that if there’s at least one young indigenous [person] the short film and is like: ‘Hey, I am more curious about what kind of activism could look like for me’.”

Hero Image: Fijian short film Vakaraitaka is a cinematic poem and is made up of four poems written by Fenton Lutunatabua.

bottom of page