Sima Urale
Michael Gross

Holly caught up with Sima Urale at a local pool hall to shoot some stick and get the lowdown on the filmmaker’s latest endeavors.

These days, she’s at work on a film on gambling among Pacific Islanders. “We have the highest proportion of gamblers,” says Sima, a Samoan. “We usually tend to have the highest statistics in just about any area. Highest smokers. Highest cancer rate. So I thought it would be a good idea to do a film on gambling because we’re atrocious at gambling.”

She’s likely to treat the topic with the same blend of honesty and empathy that has distinguished her other works. Sima, originally an actor, got tired of acting out other (mostly white) folks’ ideas and was drawn to filmmaking as a way to explore her own.

Her debut, O Tamaiti (The Children), tells the story of a Samoan boy charged with caring for his younger brothers and sisters. The 15-minute film won her international recognition and a fistful of awards, including the coveted Silver Lion at the Venice Film Festival.

She then went on to make Velvet Dreams, a documentary about the sensual velvet renderings of Polynesian women — told through the eyes of a man who becomes obsessed with a woman featured in one particular painting.

“It was really about exploring how these artists colonized the Pacific through painting images about our women,” she says.

In the process of making the piece, she found an aging velvet master — and came to, on some level, appreciate him and his odd-ball ways. She also recently finished a film about euthanasia. “I love social issues; I’m quite morbid,” she confesses.

Although she’s attracted by somber themes, Sima’s outlook tends to be on the bright side. “I’m very up. Maybe because I’m so up I have to do, you know, downer type films.”

Similarly, while she loves filmmaking, she doesn’t spend a lot of time watching movies: no money, no time and an aversion to sitting around in a dark theater. But she has been known to catch the occasional action flick.

She acknowledges that it’s not always easy to get someone to bankroll a film that digs into gritty issues, but Sima’s characteristically undaunted.

“ I really think if you’ve got a good enough idea and you’re enthusiastic about it people will back you up. So I’m very positive about the industry, I’m not a whiner.”

From the Interview

“I love watching action films. But then I go away and make these morbid films.”

“I think it’s a really weird thing to sit in the dark all day and watch films. I don’t watch much TV, it bores me to death after 20 minutes of watching, so…I actually don’t see that many movies. after two years of acting I realized I was doing rehashed plays. Good plays, but I didn’t find Shakespeare too inspiring or…I mean I love Shakespeare but I didn’t find it very accessible.”

Sima Urale

morbid optimist


Wellington, NZ

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