“It’s actually the only one of its kind in the country and we searched around the world and its actually the only one of its kind.”

Pasifika Film Festival Director and Rugby League legend Nigel Vagana is gearing up for the annual event that among all of Australia’s film festivals holds a very special focus.

“(The Festival) takes stories from all over the Pacific and showcases the storytelling that has been around for centuries throughout the Pacific,” said Vagana, who is directing the Festival alongside founder Kalo Fainu. “We have a very strong oral tradition where a lot of our stuff wasn’t written down; storytelling is a great way for us to share some of our history and some of our journeys and with the new wave of technology that exists nowadays it’s a different platform to share more of these stories to different audiences.”

“It’s definitely a Festival that appeals to Pacific communities that are living abroad but at the same time it’s a great way to showcase Pacific culture to new communities… we’re less than 1% of the population here in Australia so to be able to help showcase our culture to the rest of Australia and the rest of the community that exists within Australia is a real big bonus for us, and anytime that people learn more about other people’s cultures it creates a more harmonious environment for all.”

This year’s festival boasts a slew of Australian premieres, including Being Bruno Banani, about the man who gave the Jamaican bobsled team a run for their money.

“That story, I’m surprised that it hasn’t really become mainstream yet because his journey is quite extraordinary, not just being the first Pacific person ever to make it to the Winter Olympics but the way he went about it, and made it,” said Vagana. “They had an open trial on the islands in the middle of the Pacific for luge down on the dirt roads on a makeshift bobsled with wheels and he actually got picked out of 7 or 8 guys that rocked up.”

“He’s the only one who wanted to go down the hill without a helmet and knee-pads, they picked him because he had no fear…. to qualify for the Olympics in a really short amount of time was quite extraordinary, and everyone compares it once they see it to the Cool Runnings movie with the Jamaican bobsled team, this is basically the island version.”

“When he got picked up and left the islands he’d never seen snow before and this is a guy aiming to go to the Winter Olympics in 10 months-time; that whole fairy-tale of having a crack at something and seeing where you end up and getting there and flying the flag at the Winter Olympics opening ceremony was quite a journey.”

Not the only remarkable thing about Banani, who will attend the screening on opening night, was the, unusual way he circumvented the International Olympic Committee’s strict advertising regulations and raised funds for the once-in-a-lifetime shot.

“The name Bruno Banani is not actually his name,” explains Vagana. “It’s actually an underwear brand in Germany, that’s another aspect of the film where they created what turned out to be the first ever living brand, he changed his name and everything, it’s quite an interesting and unique journey that our mate’s taken…. it will be great to have him and hear some of his journey as well.”

Mercenary, a feature about the darker side of professional sports, will screen on the Sydney leg’s closing night.

“Mercenary is a film about the whole system of recruiting agents, professional contracts and professional pathways and a lot of young kids, whether it be Rugby or Rugby League or Swimming, Basketball, College Football, they obviously aspire to being big time athletes and sometimes the journey to becoming those athletes isn’t as pretty as you’d envisage,” said Vagana.

“This is a story about the ugly side of recruiting and the ones that potentially get lost in the system and the challenges they go through that not many people see… not too many people think about language barriers along the way and how they can hinder your engagement with the local community that you’re landing in… it’s a pretty big eye-opener if you haven’t been involved in that environment.”

Kicking off in Sydney in early November, Vagana is keen to expand not only the reach of the Festival but its engagement with emerging filmmakers; this year hosting the first ever Pitch Pleez program.

“We want to create the next wave and the next generation so we’ve got a couple of scholarships and we’re going to give people the opportunity with 3 minutes in front of a panel to pitch a story and potentially look to put it in play, turn it into a short film and possibly more down the track,” said Vagana. “We want to try to generate and showcase some more Pacific filmmakers, anyone of Pacific background is welcome to get up there and lay their heart out for three minutes and hopefully jag a scholarship.”

“Last year, we basically did it all in Sydney; I’m actually excited this year because we’re expanding and we’re going to share our festival with the group in Brisbane and also taking it to New Zealand, Auckland and Wellington – it’s good to take on this new challenge.”

The Pasifika Film Fest will screen in Sydney from Nov 2-6 and in Brisbane from Nov 10-13, 2016