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  • Danielle Kionasina Dilys Thomson

LITIA TUIBURELEVU - WRITER & DIRECTOR OF STILL HERE 

Words by: Danielle Kionasina Dilys Thomson


Litia Tuiburelevu (Fijian Pākehā Tongan) is the writer and director behind the wave-making docuseries, STILL HERE. In response to the changing cultural and physical landscape of Aukilani, Litia set out to document the lives of families who made it what it is today. Despite rampant gentrification in Central Tāmaki Makaurau, the Pacific diaspora remains. STILL HERE is a visual representation of a zealous resistance to the erasure of intergenerational influence in inner-city suburbs. With Litia at the helm, alongside Ursula Williams and Torisse Laulu, STILL HERE tells the complex, colourful stories of Tagata Moana who live there now. 


Growing up in Ponsonby, Litia’s frustrations about unwelcome changes in her neighbourhood stirred just beneath the surface. She saw real estate agents who relentlessly banged down her friends’ front doors with pushy propositions, and whitewashed buildings that sprung up overnight like an abrupt invitation to get out of the way. While her emotions churned internally, she searched for an avenue that would allow her to accurately express them. Out of high school, Litia studied law and art history at The University of Auckland. There, she trained as a lawyer, following in her mother’s footsteps. However, Litia had always been enamoured with film. She saw it as a powerful medium for storytelling and activism. 


In law school, Litia wrote a compelling essay about gentrification in Pacific communities. But she believed that this story was better told through moving images. Litia’s drive to say something that had been on the tip of her tongue for years converged with her desire to follow a lifelong passion. She decided it was time to pick up a camera. 


Firstly, Litia took stock of the resources that were within her reach. Knowing that she wasn’t formally qualified in film and lacked industry connections, Litia felt the humbling weight of her own ambition. Nevertheless, she utilised her existing writing skills and solid internet connection to get the ball rolling. Once Litia had recorded her ideas on Word doc’s and Canva slides, she took a deep breath and shared them with Torisse Laulu, an emerging producer who was keen to collaborate. 


Soon after connecting with each other, Torisse and Litia posted a call for contributors to their project on social media. Much to their surprise, they received over 100 responses in one night. This led to the assembly of an eager and talented team.


With basic equipment and momentum building, Litia and her small crew captured the leaving party of the Williams family at 101 Rose Road, Grey Lynn. This bittersweet memorial became a seven minute proof of concept, edited on iMovie and sent to countless platforms and producers. Thankfully, Ursula Williams from 4&5 Films picked it up and supported the series to secure funding from NZ On Air. 


Following the confirmation of funding for the first season, Litia and Torisse brought another influential collaborator on board—Niuean Hip Hop artist, Diggy Dupé. Diggy opened the series with a candid kōrero and an intimate tour of his hometown in the “city boys” episode. 

“We really wanted him”, Litia says, “given that his Central identity is such a core theme of his artistry. So, we just reached out and thankfully he said ‘yes’!”


Since its release in July 2022, STILL HERE has evolved into an acclaimed body of work that thousands of people have engaged with online—airing on Re: News and TVNZ OnDemand, and receiving the ‘Best Video Documentary Series’ title at the 2023 Voyager Media Awards. It’s an official hit! 


Beyond the numbers, STILL HERE is a time capsule that serves to connect, educate and uplift. Litia, Ursula and Torisse have successfully created art that accentuates the mana of people and place. With a second season continuing to make waves, it is only a matter of time before the whole country (*cough* THE WORLD) sees the unapologetically brown version of Central Aukilani that they know best.

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