AUT alumnus Toiroa Williams was acknowledged in November 2017 alongside filmmaker Taika Waititi at the World Class New Zealand Awards in New York City, held by AUT and KEA.
Toiroa, the first AUT graduate to intern at the Sundance Institute through AUT Internz, was recognised as an exemplary ambassador for the global internship programme.
A few short months after he graduated from AUT, Toiroa found himself introducing the ideas behind his thesis to a film institute founded by Robert Redford to support the growth of independent artists. Te Whare Tapa Wha, a Māori holistic health and wellness philosophy, is now a guiding principle behind the institute’s Native American and Indigenous Programme's strategic plan.
Toiroa says the experience interning in "the incubator for developing tomorrow's filmmaking talent" during 2017 has been life changing.
"I was lucky to arrive at the institute in the programme’s strategic planning year.” As well as contributing to the vision for the next five years, Toiroa received guidance from renowned industry leader Bird Runningwater, the director of the indigenous programming unit, who he calls “a beacon of light for the indigenous film and storytelling industry."
Highlights of his internship have included helping select the programme’s two 2017 fellows, who were coached through the process of making a 15 minute film to submit to the festival. "It feels like I’ve been full circle with them," he says. Toiroa accompanied Bird and the 2017 fellows to a retreat in New Mexico, where they scripted and workshopped scenes with actors.
After completing a three month internship Toiroa moved to a role in the Sundance programming team, where he supported preparation for the Sundance Film Festival in January 2018. The team has the monumental task of watching 1,300 submitted films to select a list of 180 to feature in the January festival.
"It's like training with the All Blacks. You are going to get better at what you do by just surrounding yourself with these people."
Through AUT Internz, graduates have experienced working in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Denver, Colorado Springs, Washington DC and Vancouver for hosts including Apple, Facebook, Paramount Recording Studios, Lululemon Athletica, the Smithsonian Institution, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and New Zealand’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations.
AUT Internz is entering its fifth year and is preparing to support its one hundredth Kiwi intern to enter the global market. The stories of network building, professional development, cultural exchange and personal growth are plenty", says AUT’s Director of Development Ella Monahan. "But stories like Toiroa’s definitely stand out.
"Toiroa has not missed a single opportunity presented by this scholarship. Outside of his experience with Sundance, where he's impacted the indigenous programme, he’s made every moment count. Along with (2017 AUT intern to Paramount Recording Studios) Atereano Matariki, he’s become an ambassador for Education New Zealand. He’s also developed an enduring relationship with a rugby club.
"The arts, education and sport – he's covered it from all angles and the ripple effect of that impact is huge. Toiroa epitomises the essence of our cultural exchange programme,” says Ella.
As a proud graduate of Te Ara Poutama, with a Master of Māori Development and Communication, Toiroa is enjoying promoting New Zealand to future students from the US at California universities.
"Toiroa has not missed a single opportunity presented by this scholarship. Outside of his experience with Sundance, where he’s impacted the indigenous programme, he’s made every moment count and he’s become an ambassador for Education New Zealand."Ella Monahan, AUT’s Director of Development
He says local reaction to meeting him and his good friend Atereano at the Education New Zealand booth at study fairs has been awesome. “They say 'OMG you guys are real Kiwis!' – and Māori as well – they love it."
Toiroa also joined a supportive community by becoming part of the Ventura Rugby Club. At the insistence of an old friend he reconnected with, a study abroad student from California, Toiroa became a pivotal part of the team that went on to win the state championship for the first time in history. The club has gained a loyal following of Kiwi and Māori supporters from all over Los Angeles.
With only a few months left to stay in the US before his visa expires, we can be confident Toiroa won’t waste a second. And down the track, he says he’ll be back. “I’ll be submitting my script to the Native Lab and making a film."