Sione Tuívailala Monū, Leitī

Sione Tuívailala Monu


Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts
Perth Cultural Institute
51 James Street
Perth, WA 6003

30 July–10 October 2021

Leitī is a new moving image work by Sione Tuívailala Monū. Produced in 2021, the film centres on Sione and their friend and collaborator Manuha’apai Vaeatangitau. The film acts as a visual diary, constructed from footage mostly collected over the past year by Sione on their iPhone. Friends, conversation, cooking, dress up, tarot reading, voguing and Manu’s own performances all feature. Inspired by Monū and Vaeatangitau’s friendship and their shared experiences as fakaleiti or leitīs, a Tongan word to describe the third gender, Leitī explores the importance and power of community, sisterhood and survival.

Featuring themself and their surroundings and often cast with their friends and family, Monu’s films slide between performative and documentary modes to recall a variety of genres, from home movies and video diaries to satires and soaps, and are an extension of their video-based Instagram practice. Filmed and edited on an iPhone, their temporal distortions and montages of impressions, memories and fantasies reflect the influence and impact of social media on everyday life.

Manuha’apai Vaeatangitau: So, this is an interesting dynamic. Usually, when we dive into chats like this, it’s face-to-face. Given that we’re not, I’ll treat this an opportunity to live our best pen pal fantasy via written interview. And I guess with that the first thing is: I feel like your cinematic practice has this incredible universal appeal to it, so what I’d like to dig into is whether you feel it was deliberate or was it naturally fostered as you kept creating?

Sione Tuívailala Monū: Ok gag, well firstly, miss u sis!! I been seeing via social media that you’ve been really busy with creative projects and I absolutely am obsessed with! It’s been keeping my heart warm in this Canberra cold! Aotearoa is truly on fire! ♥ But back to your question, regarding the development of my cinematic practice and its perceived universal appeal, I feel it was a natural organic development out of the progression of my mobile device video practice. As a teen I was a loner and had a love of world cinema filmmakers and films which I lived vicariously through. It wasn’t until the Instagram video feature was introduced to the platform which allowed you to upload several videos of up to 15 seconds that I had the tools, albeit rudimentary tools, to explore my moving image practice.

Thank you and I miss you too! This truly has been a blessed season for the both of us. No matter how daunting the workload, I hope we stay grateful. In saying that, I’ve had the great honour of being able to work alongside you, tracking your progression from the 15 second Instagram video to the short films you’re creating now. From that, I know you have a keen sense for the cinematic language. What are some key influences, and do you feel you are shaping a cinematic language of your own?

Oh, definitely Pedro Almodóvar was one of my first loves of world cinema. I had a little phase with the ice-cold cynical films of Michael Haneke during my last years of high school. And more recently I’ve been really enchanted by the films of Luca Guadagnino. I do feel all the world cinema that I consumed quite young and lived vicariously through really influenced not only my eventual video practice but how I experience life. There’s that TikTok trend where we joke that I have “main character syndrome” where you experience the world as the main protagonist, but I do feel in many ways this to be true for myself haha.

I feel the development of a cinematic language is no different to painters or musicians or artists of any art form developing their creative voice over years based on an individual’s life experiences. I think if I just keep making work that talks to my experiences of the world real, and imagined, there will be a cinematic language naturally birthed from it.

Yes! We love Pedro, Michael, and Luca! I remember when you first showed me All About My Mother. That film had me stunned, but all the while it felt familiar. What I had realised then was that your short films carry a similar charm, the ability to bend and twist the human experience, no matter how mundane, into something full and captivating. Sometimes melancholic, sometimes comedic yet always contemplative. I don’t know if it’s just me, but sometimes your worlds feel mysterious too. Do you ever experience trepidation when setting out to create the worlds of your short films? And, if not, how does your cinematic practice led itself to say, personal power and new expressions of freedom?

From a young age I grew up with a camera in my hand so I kind of feel that I experience and see the world through a cinematic lens on a deep cellular level. Wow, that sounded pretentious lol but truly, the main character syndrome is strong in this one, fam 😂 So I wouldn’t say I have trepidation ever when I set out to create moving images. It actually brings me joy creating and discovering through creating. It’s very rare that I ever feel insecure in expressing myself creatively. Creative expression is the only language I feel fluent in. So definitely my personal power comes from the predominance of expression.

It’s so exciting to know that. I think a lot of the discourse around film in Aotearoa, especially Pacific film, is wrapped in other things that we often forget that there is joy to be found through this form too. Especially as leitī, the pressure to create work that is ‘meaningful’ is rife. She said, she’s a boundless woman! I love. I think people clock your surrender to your practice and the joy it brings. With that, your work has found a home across the globe, as it rightfully should. So, how does it feel bearing witness to the constant outreach of your practice?

It’s a constant gag tbh. It’s buzzy that my little passion for making and editing little vids on my iPhone has been received by such a wide range of communities. I do believe that cinema is probably the most powerful art form in how it transmits its ideas into our collective consciousness, which is also the perfect weapon/tool for all of us awkward quiet souls of the world hehe 👁 👄 👁 💅

I feel that, and if there is anyone who shall usher us into a new age of cinematic renaissance, please may it be you! I also love the idea of the form, existing simultaneously as means of joy and quiet warfare for the awkward sissies. My last question, I guess, would be what do you see for yourself and the exciting worlds you continue to grow in your short films?

I just want to continue creating work with my mates that brings me joy, challenges me, scares me, confuses me, excites me…

And that’s on JOY fam! I love you down b and thank you so much! X

Thank u b I love your work xox


Sione Tuívailala Monū, Leitī. Installation view, Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts, August 2021.

Sione Tuívailala Monū, Leitī. Installation view, Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts, August 2021.