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Sima Urale awarded Fulbright-Creative Award

17 July

Sima Urale awarded Fulbright-Creative New Zealand Pacific Writers’ Residency at the University of Hawaii

“New Zealand’s most exciting talent in film”

Sima Urale, an award-winning writer and director, has been awarded the inaugural $40,000 Fulbright-Creative New Zealand Pacific Writers’ Residency at the University of Hawaii.

The Wellington filmmaker, who was born in Samoa in 1967 before immigrating with her family to New Zealand in 1974, will take up the three-month residency in August. She will work on the script for a feature-length film entitled Moana, which explores traditional stories of Polynesian myths and legends within a contemporary urban setting.

“I’ve written the first draft of the script but the residency will give me the time I need to do further research and really focus on my writing and what I want the film to say,” Urale says. “I’m wanting to say several things but I need to define the one thread that matters above all else.

“I’m also looking forward to using the archival resources at the University of Hawaii and meeting with other Pacific writers and filmmakers.”

The residency, based at the University’s Centre for Pacific Studies, is a partnership between Creative New Zealand, Fulbright New Zealand and the University of Hawaii.

Marilyn Kohlhase, a member of Creative New Zealand’s Arts Board and the Chair of its Pacific Arts Committee, says the residency will provide Urale with a sustained period of time to concentrate on her exciting new film project.

“Sima is the pioneer of Pacific storytelling in film and the residency provides a wonderful professional development opportunity in a stimulating environment in the Pacific,” Ms Kohlhase says. “It’s also a great chance for her to build valuable international networks and strengthen ties with other Pacific artists.”

Jenny Gill, Fulbright New Zealand Executive Director, says that Hawaii is a hub for Pacific writing. It is also an important link to mainland United States and has a flourishing indigenous culture.

“Sima will be an excellent ambassador for New Zealand and I’m sure her work will benefit greatly from this opportunity,” she says. “For the past three years, we’ve been working closely with the University of Hawaii on the Fulbright Hays Teachers’ Programme and we look forward to strengthening these ties.”

Actor Cliff Curtis, who first met Urale when they were fellow acting students at Toi Whakaari New Zealand Drama School, describes her as “New Zealand’s most exciting talent in film”.

Urale graduated from Toi Whakaari in 1989 and after two years as a professional actor, she decided to pursue her ambitions as a director. In 1994, she graduated with a bachelors degree in arts, film and television at the Victorian College of the Arts in Melbourne.

“I love theatre but I knew I’d have to choose film and television if I wanted to express the stories and opinions that I think are relevant to society,” she says. “The awesome thing about film is that it can travel to the other side of the world and it has a long life. Rather than make the audience come to me I decided to go to the audience with film and television.”

In 1996, she wrote and directed a 15-minute film, O Tamaiti. This film, funded by the New Zealand Film Commission, went on to win eight international awards, including Best Short Film at Venice, Asia-Pacific, Chicago, Aspen and Newport Beach film festivals, as well as the New Zealand Film and Television Awards.

A year later, she directed the documentary Velvet Dreams for Television New Zealand’s Work of Art series and it went on to win Best Documentary Award at the Yorkton International Film Festival in Canada.

Another of her films, Still Life, is about an elderly couple and won Best Short Film at the 2001 Montreal Film Festival. It also won Best Director, Best Script, and Best Art Department at the Drifting Clouds International Film Festival. Urale credits her success in film to determination and dealing with social issues close to her heart. “I always strive to make a film that says what I want it to say. If I didn’t have anything to say, I wouldn’t make films.”


Born in Savaii, Samoa, Sima Urale and her family immigrated to New Zealand in 1974. She attended Toi Whakaari New Zealand Drama School in 1988 and after graduating in 1989, she went on to perform in various theatre productions throughout New Zealand.

After two years of stage performance, Urale was accepted into the Victorian College of the Arts Film and Television School (formerly Swinburne), Melbourne, Australia. In 1993, she won the VCA Best Student Award and in 1994, she graduated with a bachelors degree in film and television. She immediately returned to Wellington where she wrote and directed her first short film, O Tamaiti, with producer Kara Paewai. The film went on to win eight international awards.

In 1995, she performed in the award-winning play Think of a Garden, which won her Best Actor in a Supporting Role at the Chapman Tripp Theatre Awards.

In 1997, she directed the documentary Velvet Dreams for Television New Zealand’s Work of Art series. Velvet Dreams screened at the New Zealand International Film Festival, as well as Hawaii and Jerusalem. It won Best Documentary Award at the Yorkton International Film Festival in Canada.

In 1998, she made a brief return to theatre for the play Frangipani Perfume, directed by Hori Ahipene and written and produced by her sister Makerita Urale. This play was heralded by the New Zealand Listener as its top ten favourite plays of the decade.

Sima Urale’s first music video, Sub-cranium Feeling, for brother Bill Urale (aka King Kapisi), won Best Music Video at the BFM, Mai Time, and Flying Fish Awards.

Her most recent work Still Life, a short film about an elderly couple, won Best Short Film at the Montreal Film Festival 2001 and the Special Mention Award at the Larcarno Film Festival in Switzerland, and also screened at Telluride and Sundance.


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