Samuelu Siilata

Alumnus from the Faculty of Arts and recipient of the inaugural 2010 Prime Minister’s Pacific Youth Awards for Creativity talks about his passion for film and living his dream.

Samuelu Siilata.
Samuelu Siilata.

I was always artistic but I didn’t know what sort of medium I wanted to express myself with. I had an inkling in College that I wanted to pursue film.

Having completed my sixth-form year I set off overseas. I celebrated my 18th birthday in Israel – so far away from the Pacific. After getting a bit of a world perspective I came back and applied to The University of Auckland. I knew immediately that I wanted to do film.

In a sense film really incorporates my passions: I love ancient history and culture which is reflected in my minor – Anthropology. I want to bring those worlds back to life through the cinematic screen. That’s what I really love - I found that I could achieve what I wanted through film.

As soon as I heard about The Prime Minister’s Pacific Youth Award for Creativity and the opportunity to work at Weta, with a paid internship, I knew this was an opportunity of a lifetime. I knew I wanted it.

When I found out I was one of the finalists I was just blown away – the interview was conducted by Weta creators and directors, Sir Richard Taylor and Tania Rodger. They gave me a full tour of all the studios – it was just an amazing experience and that in itself was an inspiration, another example of that kiwi-can-do attitude and here they are, the best in the world. The work they do is top-notch.

I’m still in shock that I’m the recipient of the Creativity Award. I’m going I have to move to Wellington, I’m already getting a tough time from my family – they’re saying “Oh you’re going to become a Hurricanes’ supporter!” It’s definitely a dream.

I was born here, an Aucklander by birth and raised in Samoa during my childhood into my intermediate-school years. Then the whole family returned to New Zealand. I think maybe that set up my love for travel and intrigue for the wider world. It allowed me to be part of two different worlds and to see the unique beauty that every different culture and place holds.

I love travelling, I love seeing other people and cultures. In my last year of study I split my year into two and spent two half-years travelling around the world – travelling through Polynesia, Melanesia, Asia, the Middle East and then through the Pacific again on the way to a road trip through The United States of America.

By the time I returned I went to apply for postgrad at the University but I missed the close-off date. I enrolled at AUT and completed a one-year postgrad diploma in Digital Media. So I did the practical side there but I really feel that Auckland Uni gave me that basis with the theory – and some amazing papers – Hong Kong screening, British cinema, Bollywood and South Seas Screening.

The day I graduated I got a call to work with Pamela Stephenson-Connolly (Billy Connolly’s wife). She had a production company filming a local variety show for television - so I worked there for a few months. We were filming from 6am till 9 at night.

I came back here – but the market was on a low. There are a lot of expectations about getting a job when you’ve finished a degree – but it’s important not to lose heart. I believe there’s a season for everything so this year has been a good year to take stock. I spent the year researching and writing a script for my own action feature film at home while helping the family and supporting myself with a security job.

In my opinion, media as a career path is not really widely known or acknowledged in the Pacific community in New Zealand. Pacific Island television shows such as Tagata Pasifika and many others have been the pioneers, to a Pacific movement into the media. Part of what makes New Zealand films unique are the local stories which connect with people of any culture. Māori are doing well telling their stories to the world, Pacific Islanders as a whole still have a long way to go.

I believe that cinema audiences are looking for novelty – what can you present that is new – you even see the effects of indigenous culture in huge blockbuster films like Avatar.

My goal is to tell the stories that have not been told – Polynesian stories.
I want to show and share these worlds which no one has ever seen before, worlds that, say, the first European explorers such as James Cook saw them. I think that would be amazing.

But for now… I’m just … WETA!

I feel really blessed how everything is fitting together. Sometimes I’m still not sure … I think it’s a dream.