A trio of creative media students from Massey University are releasing a documentary on the effects of climate change on Tokelau.
Director Kelly Moneymaker, cinematographer Ben Dickens, and sound/editor Mason Rudd spent two weeks filming on the island earlier this year.
VAKA follows Tokelauans and New Zealand scientists as they weave customary wisdom and modern technologies in response to climate change.
The students crowd-funded $4000 alongside an MFAT grant, and their film has been on display as part of Massey’s Exposure exhibition.
Moneymaker moved to New Zealand three years ago with her husband and young daughter, after a music career in the United States saw her touring the world with the girl group Expose.
She sung with Stevie Wonder, Ringo Starr and Diana Ross before discovering a love of film and turning her hand to directing.
The students took a 55-hour boat journey to the island, encountering some frightening storms on the way, and spent 15 days on the island.
“When you get there you really see their plight,” Moneymaker said.
Plastic waste would constantly be washing up on the beach bearing labels from all over the world.
The sea walls, built to keep wave damage under control, were being eroded before their eyes.
The islands have “zero elevation – they’re at sea level”, Moneymaker said.
“But what’s amazing is the Tokelauan people’s resilience.”
Despite contributing little to global emissions, “every single day they work together to think of a solution to climate change”.
VAKA hopes to celebrate Tokelau’s resilience and heart for preserving their islands, and inspire the world to follow their environmental leadership.
“Vaka” means boat, which is essential to the Tokelauan way of life, providing transport, safety, and food. “What we want people to think about is; Who’s in the boat with you?”
The story “couldn’t be told without the visual aspect,” she said, making film the perfect medium.
After such an awakening experience, leaving the island was like “cutting the umbilical cord”.
“I went through the blues when I got back.”
The footage was cut from 13 hours to just 20 minutes.
“It was very, very difficult to whittle down,” Moneymaker said.