Moving Images of the Pacific Islands (MIPI)

DAHI Admin/ October 9, 2018/ Featured, Research/ 0 comments

filmstripMoving Images of the Pacific Islands (MIPI) is the foremost reference for Pacific oceanic cinema.

Entries can be quickly browsed by location or date. In addition to being fully text searchable, each entry contains a description of the film, its title, location, subject, length, format, hue (color or b&w), year released, series name if relevant, director or filmmaker, producer, and distributor.  MIPI facilitates and maintains the most current and comprehensive information possible about Pacific filmmaking, providing better support for regional scholars and filmmakers to find information about and discuss Pacific films and filmmaking, and enhancing the variety and breadth of information about Pacific films (for instance, offering a forum for expert commentary on films recorded in the database, many of which exist in only a few copies globally yet bear a tremendous significance to local communities or scholarly endeavors).

What counts as “Oceanic Cinema”?

(by Alex Mawyer)

Alex MawyerAs with any cinema, one of the most difficult aspects facing the compilation of these films was topological. What defines a Pacific islands film? Must the film be made in the islands of the Pacific? Do some islands signify as Pacific islands where others do not? For instance, the history of films and filmmaking in the Philippines and the Aleutians may very much resemble the histories of film production in more centrally located Pacific islands locales. Therefore, this guide recognizes that, to some extent, the boundaries of inclusion and exclusion are arbitrary. Be this as it may, there is a standard frame of reference to the English language term Pacific Islands which without any further valuation is reinforced by contemporary geopolitical boundaries, area studies, and common usage. Within this frame, the guide attempts to offer the broadest possible perspective on what constitutes a Pacific islands film. Therefore films, especially Hollywood films, which may have little direct inclusion of intraregional elements (for instance, no location footage) but which do include notable plot elements concerned with the islands or major themes in the tides of this region’s history are included. This perspective reflects the theoretical position of the current editorship that any and all representations of the region feeds back into the real, experiential, and hotly debated reality of the islands.

Geographically the films in the guide include all Pacific island states regardless of political status, including Easter Island and the Australian controlled islands of the Torres Strait. This edition of the guide adds only one new geographical area: the Galapagos islands where films have touched upon issues relevant to Pacific Islands Studies. The inclusion of films relating to the Galapagos reflects one of the new subject focuses of this edition of the Moving Images guide. These islands are included in our attempt to deepen an appreciation of the issues of the physical sciences in the region, especially botany and biology, and how they impact on social issues, as in the discipline of geography. Other new focuses for the guide include travel and tourist videos which have, since the seventies, been a major channel in the flow of information about Pacific places into Western and metropolitan Asian locales. Many of these short works of advertisement may be interesting as film texts in themselves to scholars and students in Pacific Islands Studies. Many of the most hotly contested themes in the region are found in ads, and these short films often reveal much about remote preconceptions and misconceptions of the islands.

Though some commercial Hollywood films were indexed in the previous guides, one of the primary achievements of the current edition includes a large expansion of this category of film. Such films appear in all flavors from highly romantic fictional works set on mythical islands such as Bali Hai in South Pacific to complexly introspective if fictionalized works filmed with the assistance of indigenous peoples as in South of Pago Pago, or somewhat more recently The Silent One. Films relating to the Pacific War constitute the remaining major expansion of the guide. Our rubric for the inclusion of such films was that they be focused on campaigns within the same geographical area as defined above and that they contain footage of these locales. In addition to these new subject areas, this edition updated previous areas of the guide’s focus including ethnographic and documentary works. The task of compiling this guide required that we embrace a diverse body of source material. Among other source material, we consulted previously published works on Pacific film, video and film sourcebooks, world film encyclopedias, as well as correspondence with directors, producers, and distributors. Throughout the process of collating information from these sources, we attempted to be extremely sensitive to the incredible growth in the region’s film and video production since the seventies. As many films were made in each of the last two decades as in all previous years of filmmaking combined.

An important facet of this expansion is the emergence of a growing body of film produced and directed by Indigenous persons of the Pacific islands themselves. Though islander actors have played a role in Pacific filmmaking since the introduction of the medium, the early seventies mark a transition period for the indigenization and localization of the art form. While a number of the islander directors to emerge since this time have become prominent and well-recognized leaders in their field, it is clear that many more islander-made films are produced than are distributed globally or even intra-regionally. This has been one of the most notable challenges to our methodology. We know that many more important and professional works circulate within the region’s local communities than are indexed within this guide, including a number of important video movements which are not well-recorded.

MIPI’s History

Over the years, MIPI has been a standard reference and source for scholars in the United States and abroad.

The Center for Pacific Island Studies (CPIS) at UH began compiling information on films related to the Pacific Islands in the early eighties to facilitate the use of films in the classroom. Judith Hamnett edited the first guide and published it under the title, Guide to Films About the Pacific Islands in 1986. Melissa Miller took on the work of updating the guide for the Moving Images of the Pacific Islands Conference held in 1989. Accordingly, her edition of the guide took the name of the conference as a title, Moving Images of the Pacific Islands: A Catalogue of Films and Videos. The next edition of the guide was edited by Diane Aoki and Norman Douglas and published in 1993 as Moving Images of the Pacific Islands: A Guide to Films and Videos. That edition listed over 1,100 entries across a wide variety of subjects. In 1997, Alexander Mawyer (CPIS MA, 1997) compiled a fourth edition of the guide published by CPIS in the Occasional Papers series.

Although the Internet was then still in its early days, CPIS worked to establish and make available an online database of the MIPI project, which had grown in that year from a record of several hundred Pacific films in the third edition of the guide to over 2,600 films in the updated, online edition. Since then, Mawyer pursued a Ph.D. at the University of Chicago (awarded in 2006) and took MIPI with him to his first post at Lake Forest College, where the number of entries surpassed 3,500.  MIPI was shifted over to a wiki format in 2011 with the help of Tisha Hickson and Nick Jordan. Nick served as the MIPI webmaster at Lake Forest from 2012-2015.

Alex returned to CPIS in 2014 as faculty and soon connected with DAHI.  In the summer of 2015, MIPI went live on the DAHI server at UH, where it has grown to over 6,000 entries.  MediaWiki, the public, open-source software behind Wikipedia, offers a robust platform for hosting and maintaining an up-to-date, flexible, and extendible version of MIPI well into the future.


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