This NZ Film Commission omnibus work made by nine female Pacific Islands filmmakers employs a different indigenous actress to portray Vai (which means “water”) at different ages but in one continuous storyline of a woman coming into her own and navigating her roles as daughter, mother, community leader, and grandmother.
A spiritual sequel to last year’s WARU, this wonderful portrait of female resilience showcases a journey of empowerment through culture and the lifetime of one woman, Vai. Highlighting a spectrum of Pacific Islander cultures (Fiji, Tonga, Solomon Islands, Kuki Airani (Cook Islands), Samoa, Niue and Aotearoa) by using an indigenous actress from each culture to portray Vai at different stages of her life, VAI features eight chapters that seamlessly flow in its poetic rhythm. Confined within a single shot, each chapter spotlights each island culture and its traditions as seen through a distinctly female perspective. Rightfully so, since these are matriarchal and matrilineal cultures where women’s actions and voices are regarded as sacred and intuitive to the hearts and minds of the people.
In one of the pieces, there is Vai from the Solomon Islands, who plays hooky and goes fishing as a way to cope with the loss of her mother. In another segment, a young Vai aspires to be a singer, while her family struggles to find some water to create medicine. Then there is Vai from Somoa who lives in New Zealand. She struggles to keep her life afloat as she juggles university and her family obligations. The cinematography and performances enhance the experience and really bring to life each of the locations. Each story centers the struggles faced by women of these Pacific islands each day and demonstrate their poise and resolve to survive and keep going every day in order to make life better for themselves and their families. —Melanie Ramos