'Still Here 09' : a new Pacific documentary series

From central Auckland to the world. A Research Fellow in the Faculty of Law leads an all-female Pacific filmmaking team creating a new documentary series called 'Still Here 09'.

From left: Torisse Laulu, producer and Litia Tuiburelevu, director of 'Still Here 09', premiere night at Tautai. Photo: Emmaline Pickering-Martin

Litia Tuiburelevu is a Research Fellow in the Faculty of Law. She is of Fijian, Tongan and Pākehā whakapapa, born and raised in Central Auckland. More recently however, she has created and directed a television and online documentary series called Still Here 09.

The series tells the stories of four Pacific whānau who still live in Central Auckland. As is well known in the history of Tāmaki, a large cohort of Pacific people migrated to Aotearoa and settled in the inner city suburbs between 1950 and 1980. With the onset of gentrification, the large majority of these families had to leave and move further away to areas such as west and south Auckland.

The series highlights the strength of families who are still in central and the many challenges and cultural shifts they have faced in the time they have lived in the area.

Litia has always loved film and film making. Discussing her passion she explains that as a Pacific daughter, sometimes we have to take the path our parents choose for us first before exploring our own pathways.

“I always wanted to make films and have had a passion for film in general, but, you know, being a good Pacific girl I listened to my parents and being a lawyer was the safe option. On paper, law makes me successful. I studied, graduated and worked in law. I found that the Pacific issues I saw in law practice and law research such as racism, gentrification and inequitable systems gave me a strong foundation that worked in with my filmmaking ideas too."

Litia recalls being a postgraduate student in the law school and wanting to present her mahi in creative ways that were not well received in a traditional academic setting.

It wasn’t ‘academic enough’ and it made me think, 'why can’t we present these issues in accessible ways, how do we move past the colonial institution and share our experiences of life through law and academia?'

Litia Tuiburelevu Waipapa Taumata Rau

“For my honours dissertation, I wanted to present it with a photographic creative component and was told that it wasn’t ‘academic enough’ and it made me think, 'why can’t we present these issues in accessible ways, how do we move past the colonial institution and share our experiences of life through law and academia. Why can’t we do both?'”

These tensions for a young Pacific academic are not uncommon and more often than not see many leave academia to pursue passions that are more welcome outside of the institution. Litia did exactly that, realising that not only were her ideas hugely valid but they had worth outside of the university system. She recalls the moment she knew her idea of Still Here 09 had to be created.

Still Here Exhibition Piece at Tautai. Photo: Emmaline Pickering-Martin

“It was 2017 in Ponsonby and I was with my mum, this Niuean lady got off the bus and approached me and started telling me about how these real estate agents kept coming to her house and trying to get her to sell. She was annoyed and upset that they didn’t understand why she kept saying no and leave her alone. At that moment I knew I had to tell these stories."

But going from an idea in her head to a whole documentary series takes bravery and lots of stars aligning. Litia knew she could do two things, write and create proposals. Having done both of those numerous times in her law career she created a proposal and connected with Still Here 09 producer Torisse Laulu.

“We put the idea out on Instagram and asked if anyone would be interested. We had over 100 whānau apply. The Williams family who are featured on the ‘City Boys’ episode actually got in contact with us straight away and were like, 'hey we are selling our family home and having our final family party at the house on Friday if you want to come along'. So Torisse, Isoa and I went through and filmed with cameras we rented and just the hope that it could be something.”

I think if you approach a project with the right intention and the right respect, the right collaboration will occur.

Litia Tuiburelevu Waipapa Taumata Rau

They used that footage as part of their proposal and pitch and it was hugely successful with Ursula Williams from 4 & 5 Films picking up the series and backing them to get funding from NZ On Air. The whole series is Pacific women led, with Litia as director, Torisse as producer and Ursula as the supervising eye. It was filmed in between lockdowns over a year and then put together by the team at 4 & 5. Litia reflects on the whole journey with pride and a grateful heart.

“I think for me knowing the families are happy with their stories being told in a uniquely female Pacific way makes me happy. My mum is also really proud of me. She used to always be like, 'what do you mean you’re making a show?' Then when she actually saw it she really got it and she raised me in central as a single mum so I am so glad she loves it. I am a person who holds ideas in because I don’t want to let myself down, but I realised that once I started telling people about this idea so many people wanted to help that it just made sense. I think if you approach a project with the right intention and the right respect, the right collaboration will occur.”

Still Here 09 premiered on Friday 8 July to a jam-packed Tautai Art Gallery on Karangahape Road. Opened by  Reverend Mua Strickson-Pua, the launch was filled with the families themselves and some of Auckland’s best including AUT Vice-Chancellor Toeolesulusulu Damon Salesa, MP Jenny Salesa, comedian Joe Daymond, broadcaster John Campbell, Auckland Central MP Chloe Swarbrick and a large cohort of up and coming, as well as accomplished, young New Zealand performing artists.

NZ Hip Hop artist Diggy Dupe, who is also featured in the ‘City Boys’ episode, performed alongside DJ GarethxMF and Litia, Torisse and Ursula were all praised for a wonderful snapshot into Pacific whānau and the intersections of time, culture and society.

Still Here 09 episodes can be viewed on TVNZ on Demand as well as the Re: news website. The Still Here 09 photographic exhibition runs for the whole month of July at Pacific Art Gallery Tautai on Karangahape Road in central Auckland.

NZ Hip Hop Artists Diggy Dupe and GarethxMF perform at the premiere of Still Here 09 at Tautai. Photo: Emmaline Pickering-Martin

Media contact

Emmaline Pickering-Martin | Media adviser, Pacific
Waipapa Taumata Rau |  University of Auckland
E: emmaline.pickering-martin@auckland.ac.nz