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FIFO 2020: a festival committed to making the voice of Oceania heard 

The prizegiving evening for FIFO 2020 took place on Friday 7th February at the Maison de la Culture’s Grand Théâtre. The Grand Jury Prize was awarded to the film Ophir by Alexandre Berman and Olivier Poller. The winning film brings to the fore decolonisation and the importance of making the voice of natives heard.

Oceania does not exist. It comes into existence when Oceanians gather together.’ These are the words of Wallès Kotra at the prizegiving evening for the 17th FIFO. He initiated the festival with Heremoana Maamaatuaiahutapu. The Maison de la Culture has hosted Oceanians for a week of screenings, meetings, passionate and constructive discussions for 17 years. ‘We are delighted to meet up and share all that. Even if we are relatively small, it is important that our voice is heard. It is important that policy makers hear the voice of FIFO. We need help in defending our region.’ At the Pacific Television Conference, the media in Oceania as a whole launched a solemn appeal to heads of States and Governments of Oceania and to the Pacific Islands Forum to ensure they participate in creating a regional support fund for audiovisual and digital production. This was a key moment for the festival and the region. The Minister of Culture, Heremoana Maamaatuaiahutapu, also said a few words to thank those who came from far afield and from the Pacific for this 17th edition. ‘The round tables were very rewarding. I learnt many things during this FIFO but as usual I didn’t see anything. As they say, the cobbler’s children go barefoot.

Opening up to fiction

The prizegiving opens with the Writing Marathon Prize. ‘FIFO is very eager. Each year, we try to introduce new projects. 5 years ago, we introduced a writing marathon and since last year the winning script has been produced then screened at FIFO’, explains Miriama Bono, chairwoman of the AFIFO association. At the helm of this evening event, she invites Sophie Blanc on stage to present the prize for the script L’Enfant roi by Kohai Limik. It will be produced then screened at the next festival that will take place from 6th to 14th February 2021. Selected by the jury, the prize for the Best Short Documentary is awarded to Manus by Angus McDonald. The film gives voice to refugees at sea arriving from Iran, Afghanistan and Sudan to apply for asylum in Australia. The Australian government confines them to Manus Island, where the situation is dramatic and barbaric. Established by Pierre Olivier, who was general delegate of FIFO for a long time, Fiction Night places great emphasis on short fiction. ‘FIFO is above all a documentary festival, but we are opening up to fiction’, elaborates Miriama Bono. The Best Short Fiction Prize was awarded to Liliu. It portrays the disregard of colonisers regarding Samoan customs with excellent acting. This short fiction opened the 11th edition in which a film was forgotten! A programmed short film, Go to Bac, was not screened. To rectify this omission, it was screened at the prizegiving evening. Produced by Odile Dufant, it portrays the misfortune of a Kanak who is on his way to take his baccalaureate when his motorbike breaks down. He is distraught but runs and borrows his uncle’s car. Once in the old car, his destiny awaits him. Nothing goes the way he wants it to…This short film was heartily applauded by the audience.

An insightful winner

Before launching into the prizegiving, Eric Babier, chairman of the jury, takes to the stage to say a few words about this 17th edition and the members of the jury. ‘The debates were very interesting especially when surrounded by Oceanians when I am so unfamiliar with the region. Everyone had something to say about the films, everyone knew and described the region’s issues. The jury gelled together and took unanimous decisions.’ And now it’s time for the awards ceremony. The first Special Jury Prize was awarded to Merata, How Mum Decolonized the Screen by Heperi Mita. The son of the film’s protagonist, a New Zealander director who was the first Maori woman to produce a documentary about the Maori, is moved. The young man pays tribute to FIFO: ‘I knew that it was a small festival, but I have never seen such support for the films that are presented’. The Australian Dream wins the second Special Jury Prize, awarded by a member of the jury, Jacques Vernaudon. ‘This film describes a trajectory, that of a football hero. Through this trajectory, you realise that he can defend the origin of his country wherever he is. This film is very well written and very powerful’. The producer of the film Nick Batzias pays tribute to FIFO. ‘It is a very special honour to see this film recognised here.’ Paul Damien Williams, member of the jury and director of the feature-length documentary Gurrumul, a prize-winner at FIFO 2019, awards the third Jury Prize to Ruahine: Story Into her Skin. ‘This film made a big impression on the jury as it is very warm-hearted. It reflects the great tradition of observational documentaries, which now extends to this region. This film illustrates how important it is to know your family and where you come from’. As the film team was not present, the prize was awarded to a representative from Maori TV who sang a Polynesian song with the audience before leaving the stage. An emotional moment.

Ophir receives unanimous support

Make way for the Public Prize. This year it is awarded to The Australian Dream. An honour for the producer who knows how coveted this prize is by directors. Before the eagerly awaited moment of the Grand Prize, Miriama Bono reiterates the task facing the teams to keep the festival going. ‘We are trying to breathe new life into it. I would like to thank Éric Barbier this evening as we have had many discussions about how to improve the festival’. The chairman of the jury came onto the stage joined by all members of the jury to announce the Grand Prize 2020. The tension in the room in the Grand Théâtre is unparalleled.  ‘This film won unanimous support. Everyone was moved. It describes colonisation in a certain way with very strong emotions. The directors managed to get their hands on very special documentation.’ The film is Ophir by Alexandre Berman and Olivier Poller. The emotion displayed by the directors is obvious and all-encompassing. Alexandre Berman attempts to speak before being overwhelmed by tears. ‘This film is the fruit of very long-term work. It took 7 years. We shed many tears to make this film,’ intercedes the co-director Olivier Poller, ‘we have so much respect for this nation full of love who have given so much to the planet. We just gave them the floor to share this story. This is the first time that the film has been screened and FIFO was the apt place to start’. The film looks back on the forgotten war of Bougainville in Papua New Guinea and how the Melanesians waged a revolution against modern and traditional forms of colonisation. An issue central to the documentaries screened at this 17th FIFO. Today, now more than ever, it is essential to make the voice of indigenous people heard. Essential to build the future together. This is clearly one of the powerful messages to emerge from FIFO 2020.

Suliane Favennec/ FIFO 2020