Catching Up with Sydney-based creative: SOLANGE IPUTAU
Updated: Jun 22
Interviewed by Palepa-Sabrina Timu
Transcribed by Vanilla Tupu & Gabriel Faatau’uu-Satiu
Solange Iputau in a performance at the Australian Institute of Music
Introduce yourself in a few sentences:
My name is Solange Iputau, I’m 22 years of age and I’m Sāmoan. I live in Sydney, Australia. More specifically, I’m based in the Liverpool area.
What village are you from in Samoa?
Ok so…there’s a few! My dad is from Afega, Lefaga and Vailele and my mum is from Satuimalufilufi, Leauva’a and Falelātai. Those are the only ones I know of though.
What area of the film industry do you work in?
Currently, I’m interning with the Pasifika Film Fest and assisting with the administration/logistics side of things. I am really enjoying learning from creatives who have been in the industry a while and know what they’re doing and talking about, it’s quite refreshing also working with brown creatives. I’m loving the experience and hope to collaborate more with PFF in the future also.
Prior to that, when I was training as an actor it was more theatre work, live performance, but I would really, really like to get into TV series’ or short films. I really admire short films so probably wanting to work in that sort of field.
Where did you train?
I did a 2 year degree at the Australian Institute of Music, it’s more of a music school but they have a smaller drama department. It was a 2 year intensive course and I graduated last year in March.
Since graduating last year what have you been doing?
It’s been personal development for me in terms of taking on what I did learn from the degree and applying it to what I can do in the future and how I can use it. So I’ve been more quietly working on scriptwriting and putting my ideas on paper. I haven’t been doing a lot of work that has an output yet, it’s more so working on what kind of artist I want to be.
Have you always envisioned working as an artist- if so, when was that a defining moment for you?
No actually! I wanted to be a dancer and singer when I was really, really young. I feel like I have always had that performance spirit in me, I don’t know how, but it wasn’t until I chose drama in highschool that it changed. I picked the elective because it was a ‘fun’ class, it was the bludge class that everybody picked, but in year 10 I realised I really enjoy drama! I took it on in year 11 and did it for HSC in year 12 too. But, it wasn’t until after HSC that I realised I could actually do it as a career- that’s when I started falling in love with performance. I love watching films, I like dissecting films as well and analysing them as much as I can. I love watching documentaries as well. I didn’t really realise it could be a career until I found out people actually make money off writing scripts and holding a camera, holding lighting- not just acting, but everything that is involved with the film industry or theatre work. That’s when I decided to go on and study.
Besides being in front of the camera, would you ever see yourself directing or inhabiting other niches in the industry?
Definitely! That wasn’t until I got into uni and started realising there is so much more than being in front of the camera! I feel like a lot more work goes into being behind the camera, you know, like being at the writers table and writing scripts. Even doing casting! So, I definitely would love to have the forward slashes in my name- director/writer/producer/ actress- all the slashes!. I think as Pacific Islanders as well we can give a lot more if we’re behind the camera or doing the writing. We can do so much more than being in front of the camera, even lighting and sound, all that stuff I would love to be part of. So yeah, definitely more than just acting.
Did you grow up in a conservative family and were they always supportive of you?
Umm yes. When I was younger, they were very, very conservative. I would also say I had a kind of sheltered sort of upbringing. My dad especially is quite the traditional sort of Sāmoan man. We all know him.
Firstly, my mum started putting me in modelling gigs, she really wanted me to be a model, I don’t know why hahaha. She got me gigs doing modelling, got me a modelling agent and anything to do with performance. My mum was 100% for it. She was so, so supportive. She would take me to auditions, you know, anything that would just get my foot in the door. My dad was supportive, he just didn’t really understand that sort of environment, so he wasn’t for it but he wasn’t against it at the same time, just because he didn’t understand it. However, as I’ve gotten older they’ve realised that this is what I want to do so my parents are very supportive.
They’ve come to my uni shows even though they have no idea what is going on. They’d sit there in the audience and they will still just listen and watch. I think, you know, it’s their child so they are obviously going to support, but as I’ve gotten older they’ve realised that this is a market for Pasifika people and that there are Pasifika artists, actors and directors. I think with education, making them understand, they’ve been a lot more supportive and aware of the industry as well, which is good.
IIf you weren’t as firm with your belief about being in the industry as you are right now, what would were your parents' other ambitions for you?
My mum originally wanted me to be a flight attendant so she pushed me in high school to do travel tourism. She wanted to be a flight attendant when she was younger but fell pregnant with me so she couldn’t pursue that, so she was projecting her dreams onto me. I was against it though. I told her I didn’t want to be a flight attendant and that it wasn’t what I wanted to do. If I hadn’t have stuck to my guns, I probably would have become a flight attendant. My Dad really didn’t care what I would have done, as long as I was paying bills and had a job and was stable, he was really fine with it! Or maybe office work- safety. But no it’s definitely worked out- stick to your guns people!
Solange Iputau (pictured 2nd from right) with cast of 'Taming of the shrew with a twist'
What advice would you give to children who might not be so lucky and have stricter parents who want them to pursue 9-5 jobs?
My advice would be just to follow your dreams. Don’t listen to what other people have to say. It can be quite hard especially for our young people. Generally, our Pasifika people really listen to their music. We’re seeing a lot of young creatives dancing. I see it all the time on my social media, I think if you are passionate about it, then pursue it, don’t be afraid to! I sometimes wish I had pursued it a bit earlier after high school.
Everything happens for a reason but I waited two years. I believe that timing is always perfect when it has to be. I think the important thing is sticking to your dreams and not letting anyone distract you- questioning what you can get out of this or what you can get out of that. You never know what it will turn out to be, especially in this day and age where we have social media. It’s such a powerful way of exposing people’s talents. Follow your dreams, follow your heart. You don’t have to succumb to the norms, especially with Pasifika parenting of getting a good education and getting a good job, you also have to live life for yourself and if you want to pursue a certain path don’t be afraid to at least try it. If you don’t succeed at least you tried it! You don’t want to look back on your life and question ‘what if I did this?, what if I did that?’.
I want to look back in ten years and think, I’m so glad I tried out that acting thing!, I’m so glad I was part of that festival! Even if I don’t become an Oscar winning actress it’s fine, at least I know I gave it a go!
You mentioned that you have done some theatre work, could you elaborate on your experiences? What were the highs and lows and what were your favourite experiences?
At University, we would do shows after every trimester, just to put on the floor what we’ve learnt. We showcased Australian works, Greek work, just diving into the history and politics of Drama. I think one of my favourite moments was when we did an Australian piece, it’s funny because it’s such a big topic now but it was about racism and the different cultures that were thriving in Australia in the early ‘60s & ‘70s. I had to play a character that was Islamic, so I had to learn Arabic words and language, so I had to dive into researching the importance of language in that culture and pronouncing the words correctly and the language correctly. That felt like such a huge responsibility, having to play such a character. Racism is not new to what people in that culture are facing with war and civil war and so it was fascinating taking that on board and learning a whole different language. While it was only a few sentences I wanted to make sure I was delivering it correctly and ethically as well. That was probably one of my highs!
Can you elaborate on the high?
The high’s overall was when my family and friends came to watch me perform. They get to see what I was doing every single day and get to see why I enjoy it so much. Also, a lot of my friends and family had never been to a theatre hall before. They had never sat in a theatre room, nor had they never watched live theatre so it was really nice to educate them in that sense. It was a whole new world and being able to share what I do, what I want to do and why I invested in studying there. It was special.
In terms of your lows, what have they been?
The commute. It felt like a full time job, it really did! I think as well, when I look back and reflect on it, I was the only Pasifika person in that course… it was only Europeans. I really wanted to talk a lot more about our stories and what I want to share about Pasifika, but there wasn’t really anyone there to share it with or they didn’t understand what I was talking about. I would say like, ‘our history, we could do a play on our history!’ but they didn’t really understand where I was coming from. I think a lack of other brown brothers and sisters in the course, in the uni actually. Having to adapt to conversations that they were more aware of was strange. There weren’t many of my people in the course to share my experience with, but you know, that’s why I didn’t because there aren’t many of us in those spaces.
Solange Iputau (pictured left) with cast of 'Taming of the shrew with a twist'
Here’s a fun one. If I could offer you all the money in the world and offer the best resources which you’ll have at your disposal, what would that project look like?
One of my biggest dreams, which I’ve written down, and it’s been in my head for years, is that I want to open my own theatre. There used to be a Bunnings on Hoxton Park Road (which is 5mins away right next to the McDonalds). When we moved to the area, I told my Mum and my partner that one day, I’m going to buy that space and open a theatre specifically for Pasifika creatives. We have so many theatre spaces in the city, and obviously we are capable of working in those spaces. But, as a Pasifika woman. I don’t feel comfortable going into those spaces because my people aren’t occupying those spaces. They’re here. They’re out here in Greater Western Sydney. In South West Sydney. Not Central. Not Town Hall. But here. So my wish is to buy that space for Pasifika creatives and include the space for Indigenous and Torres Strait Islanders creatives. You can use that space as a dancer, writer, singer, whatever. That is our space, our home to create what you want to create.
Just last year, a company bought the space. Ugh! There’s a few shops, a gym. But trust me. One day, when I get the money, the funds, I’m going to buy a space. Any space. That space. For Pasifika theatre. Actually, I take that back. A creative space for our people so we can create works, open talanoa and share experiences and crafts. So that’s 1 thing I’d love to do.
I have one other, which is something I am still deciding whether it's a documentary, a short film or an actual full length feature film. I want to do something about the Mau movement. I love to educate people on the Mau movement, especially our own. But not many people understand what it is. I found out recently that I have an ancestor that was involved in leading the movement which now gives me more drive to tell the story. Before I just wanted to tell the story. But now finding out that my great-great-great-Grandfather was right there on the frontline, shot by New Zealand police etc. Learning that, it has become more of a stepping stone, a motive and reason for me to help tell this story. Something that frustrates me is how there are so many books, articles, films on white history. But there is very little, or none on native and indigenous people.
Big dreams but no money lol. Big dreams but zero dollars in the bank account hahahahahaha.
Well, you did just mention money which is stopping you from achieving those dreams. Is there anything else? What do you think needs to change and how?
It’s a personal thing. In terms of that question, the biggest thing stopping me is myself. I know it's possible 100%. There is representation out there, maybe not as much as I’d like but there are people out there putting in the work. The biggest thing stopping myself is me and self-belief. I find myself asking, can I do that? Will people watch this? Who will like this? Is it good enough to be commissioned? Will I get the funds? It really is self-belief. And I think it’s something that anyone goes through. I still stop myself. But I’m getting better at actually checking myself every now and then and having to remind myself that I can do it and it's fine. I won’t really know unless I try.
I feel that there needs to be recognition from established storytellers out there too. I recently watched an interview on a South seas islander whose great-great grandparent was part of the blackbirding in Vanuatu. And the host had asked her, what needs to change? And she said recognition. The people who are considered to be at the top, that make those decisions etc, they need to recognise some of the faults in our history and allow for these people to tell the stories more accurately.
Similar to the Chris Lilley thing. I 100% know that there are Tongan actors/writers and directors who can tell the story of Jonah from Tonga in a more authentic way that isn’t appropriation. I still can’t wrap my head around how the work was commissioned in the first place. Who in their right mind thought it was okay. We as Pasifika know our storytellers in our communities exist and are willing and ready to tell those stories. We just haven’t been given the opportunity to tell them because we haven’t had any recognition from the bigger people making those decisions.
So if I put it down to two things, it’s self belief and recognition from those with authority. I’d love it if they were able to create a space to hold workshops, actually meet us and open talanoa about our stories. Ultimately, it’ll create the opportunity to work simultaneously and so our stories are told authentically.
Who are your Pasifika heroes? Locally and internationally?
Specifically to Pasifika creatives in the industry and close to home, people like Oscar Kightley, Robbie/Pua Magasiva, Teuila Blakely. Omg I just named the cast of Sione’s Wedding haha. But it was one of the first full length films that I watched and remember identifying with the characters on the big screen. For me personally, it’s a lot of the Pasifika creatives in NZ who have paved the way for me. Robbie Magasiva then broke into the Australian scene here.
Internationally, obviously the rock. My uncle hahahahaha. But even someone like KJ Apa. He doesn’t hide his Sāmoan heritage. He’s very much for Sāmoan people. And obviously he is killing it with the amount of projects he does and is doing. And he never forgets who he is and where he comes from. It’s inspiring.
How has their work helped you in your journey?
Honestly, for me, I’m just inspired by all Pasifika creatives. Film related or not. I just think, if I can see them, if they are creating and telling our stories on whatever platform they’re on, we’re already winning right? People often forget those who are working in the background like writers/directors/producers and other crew who are doing the work. Those people inspire me too. I’m fortunate to be working with the Pasifika Film Festival this year. So working with the likes of co-directors, Kalo Fainu and Eliorah Malifa is inspiring. Then there is the extended team, people like Taofia Pelesasa, Gabriel Faatau’uu-Satiu who are also doing some pretty amazing stuff. Any Pasifika person (regardless of how big or small their roles might seem) lets me know that we can actually do this. They are my heroes. They inspire me.
What advice would you give to first time filmmakers?
Research! Do your research! Especially when you’re producing works that are based on something true or something that people are familiar with. But I mean, even researching, studying and investing in other aspects of filmmaking like equipment for example. What sort of camera you want to use, what lens might need for a specific shot, which angle will best tell what you want to see. Just do your research! Ask questions. Also, watching other films. I loveeeee to watch other films because you are not copying/plagiarising their works, you are learning from their works too. Don’t overthink it. Just do it! Thinking too much can take away from what you are trying to say. Just do your research and don’t over think.
Solange Iputau (3rd from left) with cast of George Orwell's 'Animal Farm'
Prior to this year (now working with the festival) but also participating in this blog/interview - did you know much of the festival before?
I came across the Pasifika Film Festival a few years ago. Honestly, I just saw the words Pasifika film. I didn’t even need to be told what it was about. I just knew its Pasifika, its film, so I followed. And look at me now!
I have had some friends in the past who have been a part of films in the festival. I haven’t submitted a film as of yet, but it's definitely something that I will do in the near future.
Why do you think it's important to have a space like PFF to exist?
It creates a platform for people. Over the years, I’ve watched the journey of the festival as it’s come into fruition and its own, hence why I opted to help where I can. It allows creatives to showcase their works but gives confidence that there is a space dedicated specifically for us. And it's run by people who are just like us. The space that we’ve created here from my experience is that the team is willing to listen, and allow us to input ideas on how we can best serve the bigger narrative. This space also gives our creatives the confidence to submit our works to other festivals which are bigger with a different audience. I’m so thankful to the founders and directors who recognised the hole in our industry and gave us this space designed for and by us.
Is there anything that you are working on currently that you can humble brag and share about?
I am researching and writing ideas and things around the Mau Movement, which is the big film idea I talked about earlier. I guess because it’s such a pivotal time in our history, I understand the importance of really telling the story correctly. There’s no room for error hence why I am taking my time.
On the side, my friends and I have been doing some photography. I try not to be boxed into one idea that I am only an actor. I am a storyteller. So during the COVID-19 situation, I needed a creative outlet to stay sane because I was going crazy. I’m not a professional photographer in any way, I am still learning, but it has been a fun way to exercise and expand other ideas. But it’s something I hope to integrate back into film later. So definitely, thinking of the bigger picture.
What is your greatest fear?
I mean I’m scared of snakes and stuff lol.
But I think in relation to this interview specifically, I fear that I’ll wake up in 5 years time and not be doing what I want to be doing. You know? We’ve talked about this before (outside of this interview) where I have conflicts about what it means to be Sāmoan, the oldest child at home, working a fulltime job and bringing in a stable income while wanting to pursue my dream as a fulltime creative. My fear is waking up in 5 years time and working a job that I have no passion for to fulfil a need that is temporary. I believe that happiness is what drives people. It’s what drives me. And I want to live with no regrets that I really tried to make this happen for me. I want to sustain a living being a fulltime creative. Telling our stories, travelling the world, collecting awards for a Pasifika film about our history with an all Pasifika cast/crew, going to Hollywood (if that's your thing). I just fear I will have regrets. And I don’t want to live not knowing that I tried.
Any last words?
Specifically to our non creatives out there, just support! Support and encouragement goes a long way.
If you know someone that has anyworks in the making, if they invite you to something, go along! Support the work they do to tell our stories. If you have a brown brother/sister that is doing acting, ask them questions. If you know someone that has made a film and they invite you to watch it, buy a ticket and go watch. Take your families with you. During the lockdown, I saw online that there were a lot of online supporters for our artists. So don’t just say that online and not do anything. Do something!
For our aspiring creatives, give it a try. Follow your heart. Make mistakes. Be open to learning. And make sure it’s fun. You have nothing to lose. Forget the haters and just do you!