Melbourne’s Amie Batalibasi named recipient of Sundance Institute fellowship

24 January, 2017 by Staff Writer

Melbourne filmmaker Amie Batalibasi has been named the recipient of the 2017 Sundance Institute Merata Mita Fellowship.


The annual fellowship, named in honour of the late Māori filmmaker Merata Mita, provides one Native or Indigenous filmmaker from around the world a cash grant and year-long support, including a trip to the Sundance Film Festival, access to strategic and creative services offered by Sundance Institute artist programs, and mentorship opportunities.

Batalibasi, an Australian Soloman Islander, is a writer, director and producer. A VCA grad, Batalibasi is currently adapting her award-winning short film Blackbird into a feature. The film explores the little-known history of Australia’s sugar slaves and “blackbirding,” where from 1863-1904 approximately 60,000 Pacific Islanders were taken, often by kidnapping and coercion, to work on the country’s sugar cane and cotton farms.

The story follows Siosi, a spirited young Solomon Islander who is brutally snatched from his island home and forced to work on a Queensland cane farm. Stripped of his culture, identity and entrapped within a world of exploitation, it’s his fight for survival that ultimately seals his fate.

“The Merata Mita Fellowship, which honors the memory of this noted activist, documentarian and the first and only Māori woman to write a dramatic feature, reflects Sundance Institute’s commitment to supporting Indigenous artists worldwide,” said the director of the Sundance Institute's Native American and Indigenous Film Program, Bird Runningwater.

“Merata stood up for the voices and talent of Māori artists in New Zealand’s film and television industry where she saw a notable underrepresentation and misrepresentation of her community’s stories. We are so impressed by the talent of Amie Batalibasi and feel that she is the perfect selection to carry on the creative work and mission that Merata began. We are extremely proud to continue Merata’s efforts with this Fellowship, which pays tribute to her immense contributions and passes along her spirit to a new generation of Indigenous artists such as Amie.”

Accepting the award, Batalibasi said: “I didn’t get to meet Merata Mita but I have certainly felt the effects of her legacy. I know that she was the first Indigenous woman to make a feature film in Aoteatroa, New Zealand – that enables me. I know that she was an educator, a mentor, and shared her passion for filmmaking and storytelling – that gives me hope. She was an indigenous woman breaking glass ceilings in the industry – that empowers me."

The Merata Mita Fellowship is supported by the Embassy of Australia, Indigenous Media Initiatives, Taika Waititi, White Feather Foundation, Fenton Bailey and Billy Luther, and Pacific Islanders in Communications.