by Sarah Hunt

Amie Batalibasi tackles the big issues with a small lens. As a filmmaker with nearly a decade of experience, her films focus on individual stories of migration and climate change, two issues she is passionate about.

Amie understands these issues better than most. Her extended family comes from a village in the Solomon Islands soon to be under water. Her film, Tides of Change, gives an intimate portrait of the plight of this small village and was recently screened at the Cancun climate change conference.

By teaching and making films about the lives of individuals who are often unheard in our community, Amie believes she is helping to empower them.

We caught up at the Yarraville Community Centre where she is artist in residence.

What personal experiences drew you to working with migrant communities?

Well I lived in Footscray growing up and it’s such an amazingly diverse place, so working with these communities came naturally.

What are your responsibilities as a filmmaker to your subjects?

You are in such a powerful position as a filmmaker. People are so giving of their stories and it’s up to me to portray that story in a really honest light. When audiences watch films they believe it, so in a way you are creating a truth.

Tell us about how you build trust with your interview subjects.

I made a film, In the Driver’s Seat, about some Oromo refugee women getting their licences. For example, the women in this film would have me over to their house and we would drink coffee. Now, I don’t even drink coffee, but working with the Horn of Africa communities, they want me to drink in their coffee ceremonies. So I did it because I love them.

When I showed the short film to the women they were so proud and happy and because I live in the community those relationships don’t end.

What things do you have to think about when you work with people of different cultural backgrounds?

You develop an appreciation of different cultures and you have to adapt. I’ve ended up doing things I’ve never done before like getting my hands painted with henna, going to beautiful weddings and going to private Ramadan celebrations in people’s homes.

Tell us about your organisation Pacific Community Partnerships, which you set up after visiting your family in the Solomon Islands.

I went to visit my family in Lilisiana, a small village with 1000 people.  

In Liliciana, you’ve got rising sea levels, you’ve got five babies, you don’t know where your next meal is coming from, you are fishing but the fish are no good, you’re sick and the hospital is too far away.

I decided to help the community by setting up Pacific Community Partnerships. We decided to concentrate on the women’s group, so we did small gardening projects that would be away from the tide, and we talked about women’s health and domestic violence. I also created the film, Tides of Change, about these issues while I was there.

I imagine climate change is a very real issue for the people in Lilisiana.

Their experiences of climate change are tactile and real. I’m staying with my family and you step outside your front door where you normally walk and the water is up to your knees. My family used to grow little gardens in the ground but they can no longer do that [because of the tides] so it’s taken away that food security.

The tide brings in rubbish which is horrible. It’s not going to die down, it’s only going to get worse and in the future they are going to have to move.

Do you think Australians are aware of just how much these areas are affected by climate change?

Brisbane is a three hour plane ride from the Solomon Islands and people don’t know where they are. The media often forgets the Pacific Islands and they are only represented when there is a tsunami or a coup in Fiji.

What are you doing to increase awareness of the issues for Pacific Islander people?

There’s Pacific Stories. My friend Lia Pa’apa’a and I both have Pacific Islander background so we telling Pacific Islander stories using video.

Also, my Young Media Makers project is a filmmaking course for young people aged 16-26. It’s so important to get cameras in the hands of young people and to have them tell their stories.

You can find out  more about Amie’s work and projects by contacting her through www.amiebatalibasi.com.