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From the Field: Toronto's imagiNATIVE to the European Film Market

Posted on January 25, 2024

From the premiere of his short film E MĀLAMA PONO, WILLY BOY in 2022 to being announced a 2024 NATIVe Stand Fellow, PIC-funded filmmaker Scott W. Kekama Amona has had exciting experiences at Toronto's imaginenative Film + Media Arts Festival. Read his write-up below to learn more about those achievements and how he's preparing for the European Film Market in February!


Aloha mai, ʻo wau ʻo Kekama Amona, a he mea luna kuhikuhi Kanaka ʻŌiwi au, mea luna hoʻopuka, mea kākau moʻolelo kiʻiʻoniʻoni. Aloha, I am Kekama Amona, and I am a Native Hawaiian director, producer, writer. With the support of Pacific Islanders in Communications and the Nichols Family Film Fund, my latest award-winning short film E Mālama Pono, Willy Boy premiered in Tkaronto (Toronto) at the 2022 imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival—the world’s largest presenter of Indigenous screen content. With the continued success of our film screening worldwide, online, and as the in-flight entertainment with Hawaiian Airlines X HIFF (Hawaiʻi International Film Festival), my life- and creative-partner Nani Ross and I are in development to expand the story into a feature comedic drama titled Keke that focuses on the namesake protagonist, a nine-year-old Native Hawaiian girl’s sole mission to hold tight to her Tūtū wahine (grandmother) as they weave new moʻolelo (stories) to cope and heal when their world and ʻohana start to unravel. 

Nani and I attended this past 2023 imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival in October for the collective partners of the NATIVe Indigenous Cinema’s announcement of the 2024 NATIVe Stand Fellows Program. The NATIVe Indigenous Cinema is a market space at the European Film Market (EFM) in Berlin that coincides with the prestigious Berlinale International Film Festival and showcases market-ready feature films by Indigenous creatives. The NATIVe Stand Fellows Program is a development opportunity sponsored by a collective of organizations for Indigenous creatives to not only attend the EFM and present their market-ready projects but to also participate in the immersive EFM Doc/Fiction Toolbox Program to create pathways into the international film industry and provide market intelligence, business tools, networking opportunities, and mentoring for the participants. (Image L-R: Kekama and Nani)

I was humbled and grateful to be announced as one of the 2024 NATIVe Stand Fellows, along with Northern Arapaho and Paiute filmmaker Tsanavi Spoonhunter, for the partnering sponsors Pacific Islanders in Communications, Nia Tero, and Vision Maker Media. Other partners included FILM.GL (Greenland Film Makers) who announced their fellow as Aká Hansen, International Sámi Film Institute who announced their fellow as Per-Josef Idivuoma, imagineNATIVE who announced their fellow as Gail Maurice, and Winda Film Festival who announced their fellow as Nara Wilson. Since the beginning of January, Tsanavi Spoonhunter, Aká Hansen, Per-Josef Idivuoma, Gail Maurice, Nara Wilson, and I have been participating in the online immersive program and meeting with consultants for mentorship in preparation for the EFM in February. 

For those fellows fortunate enough to attend the announcement of 2024 NATIVe Stand in Tkaronto, our journey, mentorship, and networking began at this year’s imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival. This was my second time attending the festival, which has an amazing vibe and a coming together of Indigenous creatives worldwide and their allies to celebrate Indigenous storytelling in film + video, audio, and digital + interactive art through screenings, exhibitions, special events, and more. Aside from the excellent programming of films, Q+As, special talks, immersive experiences and art exhibits, parties, and networking, it was the Industry Days that stood out as a highlight for me.

Image (L-R): Kekama Amona, Corinna Hunziker (No Māori Allowed), Reikura Kahi (No Māori Allowed), & Nani Ross

The Industry Days are a mix of panels, masterclasses, conversions, screenings, a pitch forum, and one-on-one micro-meetings with various industry professionals working in distribution, financing, film festival programming, and other areas of the film industry. As an Indigenous filmmaker from the Pacific, it was an invaluable experience hearing discussion topics, such as “AI & the Industry,” and meeting seasoned Indigenous industry professionals and allies from all over the world because films and media content and their marketing, distribution, and outreach are a collaborative effort. And this was a time to really celebrate Indigenous story sovereignty and learn how to keep creating with agency, empowerment, authenticity, and collaboratively. These Industry Days are designed to support the professional development and creative interests of Indigenous creatives with speakers and attendees like Film Commissioner Liisa Holmberg with the Arctic Indigenous Film Fund, Maren Benedicte Nystad Storslett with the International Sámi Film Institute, Artistic Director Jorma Lehtola for Skábmagovat Indigenous Film Festival, Māori producer and director Chelsea Winstanley, TIFF Programmer/Indigenous Cinema Jason Ryle, Independent Industry Programmer - Diversity & Inclusion - European Film Market & International Sales Agent Thembe Bhebhe, Nia Tero Managing Director Tracy Rector, producer/writer for Reservation Dogs Migizi Pensoneau and so many more Indigenous and non-Indigenous creatives and allies. 

With so much happening at various venues throughout the festival, we made sure to attend a few of the 14 feature films, 70 short films across 11 short film programs, 21 digital and interactive works, and 17 audio works the festival showcased this year! Fancy Dance (2023) by director Erica Tremblay and co-writer Miciana Alise, featuring award-winning actress Lily Gladstone, was the opening night feature. One of my favorite directors, Warrick Thornton, screened his latest feature The New Boy (2023), which is a drama about a nine-year-old Aboriginal orphan in 1940s Australia who arrives at a remote monastery disrupting the secluded world of the head nun and the other Aboriginal boys who live there. And the closing night featured first-time director Cody Lightning’s Hey, Victor (2023), which is a comedy about a former child actor who was in the seminal Native American film Smoke Signals and his struggles to revive his very limited career by making his own Smoke Signals sequel. 

The NATIVe Stand Fellow Program comes with much kuleana (privileged responsibility) and being able to collaborate with successful producers, financiers, sales agents, distributors, other film industry professionals and having Native Hawaiian films be represented on an international stage is priceless. I am grateful for the experiences thus far and want to mahalo nunui the collective partners for sponsoring this awesome opportunity— Pacific Islanders in Communications, Nia Tero, Vision Maker Media—and for providing a pathway for me as a Kanaka ʻŌiwi filmmaker to showcase our film project Keke to an international film industry platform. Mahalo, mahalo, mahalo!

Image (L-R): Inuk Jørgensen (Film.GL), Maren Benedicte Nystad Storslett (International Sámi Film Institute), Aká Hansen, Kekama Amona, Per-Josef Idivuoma, Tracy Rector (Nia Tero), David Morrison (imagineNATIVE)

Categories: Events, Film Festival, From the Field