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Local TV company wins funding for docu-drama rainbow series

A gisborne production company has received $350,000 in funding for a docu-drama television series on the history of Pasifika rainbow people living in New Zealand.

Tairāwhiti TV received NZ On Air funding to produce the series, called Manalagi.

The community collaboration project will comprise six 24-minute episodes.

It will be released on the TP+ platform initially and then screened on The CoconetTV and The Pantograph Punch.

It will also be marketed to TVNZ and Radio New Zealand with a goal to on-sell it to Netflix.

Principal investigator for the Manalagi project is Seuta'afili Dr Patrick Thomsen, lecturer in global studies at Auckland University. He is co-creator and producing partner of the series.

“There has been a lack of representation for Pasifika rainbow community champions in historical accounts,” he said.

“A lot of the representation that exists for our communities here in Aotearoa is focused on young people, which is important, but the missing piece in that is our Pasifika young rainbow people in Aotearoa feel like they don't have a history to connect to, which is not true.

“We who are a little bit older know that there have been many Pasifika rainbow community champions over the decades — ever since our communities have been here — which is why Tee and I came together to propose the series idea to NZ On Air, who were absolutely enthusiastic and supportive.”

Tairāwhiti TV digital producer Tee Wells, who is of Cook Island descent, said the project was important because older Pasifika rainbow people rarely got a chance to share their stories.

“Patrick and I met earlier this year when he and his team came to Gisborne. We had a ‘talanoa', which is a space where we can all talk about Manalagi and specifically about Pasifika rainbow stories.

“Gisborne was one of the regions the team came to. It was really cool to share my story because in my life experience being older growing up in Gisborne, we never got a chance to share our stories and we still don't.

“Therefore, we don't really have a voice. I thought it was wonderful what Patrick was doing with his mahi (work). I asked him if he wanted to do a collaboration and put this to screen because we don't see enough of it. I know I don't.

“It has been a work of love, which we've been working on since April this year.”

Dr Thomsen said their proposal hit all the markers NZ On Air needed.

“Since April we had worked on it on and off while also doing our jobs. We feel like this kaupapa has been blessed by something bigger and it is not just about us.”

Parts of the shooting will be done in Tairāwhiti, Tee says.

“We are visualising one part of the series to consist of a green screen in the background to facilitate Patrick's idea of augmented realities segments — renactments or drama themes in the background to depict the past.

“We've got six episodes and eight talent- prominent Pasifika rainbow champions who we will be interviewing.”

Dr Thomsen says the series will feature diversity and viewers won't see the same faces.

“We want to diversify the story. We have a problem in New Zealand around Pacific representation as you've got two types — hypervisible (entertainers/spokespeople/celebrities) or negative representation.

“With our series we want to show how we also exist in the heart of Pacific communities, not just outside. It will be an educational series for a lot of us in New Zealand.

“It will feature prominent Pasifika rainbow champions tied to specific historic moments in NZ Pasifika history who haven't had the opportunity to have their story told.”

The Manalagi project is funded through the Health Research Council of New Zealand.

“We work with F'INE Pasifika Aotearoa Trust, which is the only Pasifika rainbow whānau ora organisation in the country.

“We went across the country for our project and had many Pasifika providers support us.

“We have a lot of community support.

“They have jumped on board recently and will hopefully be a part of the big launch in February 2022 when the Manalagi survey will go live.”

For more information go to manalagi.org

RAINBOW CHAMPIONS: Tairāwhiti TV digital producer Tee Wells says the Manalagi project will offer older Pasifika rainbow people the chance to share their stories. Picture by Paul Rickard