Working with Words: Amie Batalibasi

Amie Batalibasi is an award-winning writer and filmmaker and the recipient of this year's prestigious Merata Mita Fellowship from the Sundance Institute. She's now working on the screenplay for her debut feature film, Blackbird, on the history of Australia's sugar slaves. We spoke with Amie about Sundance, stories from the Solomon Islands, and borrowing Gandalf's hat.

What’s the best part of your job?

Photograph of filmmaker Amie Batalibasi

Amie Batalibasi

It’s a privilege to be able to do what I do – write and direct. As a kid growing up in Queensland, I had no idea that I wanted to pursue this career path because I didn’t even know it was possible.

What’s the worst part of your job?

Sometimes I find the writing process a little isolating. Writing the first draft of my screenplay, I was in a bubble for weeks on end. And I’m not afraid to say that my pajamas were my uniform for most of that time.

What’s been the most significant moment in your writing career so far?

Being awarded the Merata Mita Fellowship this year through the Sundance Institute Native and Indigenous Film Program is definitely a highlight for me.

As part of the fellowship, I have the opportunity to receive support and mentorship through Sundance to develop my screenplay, Blackbird, inspired by the history of Australia’s sugar slaves. So far, the fellowship has been a fantastic journey. I was able to attend the Sundance Film Festival, connect with industry professionals and have mentors read my work and provide feedback.

Write stuff. Talk to professionals who are doing what you want to do. Upskill and keep learning. Find your people. Repeat.

What’s the best (or worst) advice you’ve received about writing?

Get it written, then get it right. I think I’m probably paraphrasing here, but it has been really good advice, especially for me when the creative juices aren’t flowing.

What’s the most surprising thing you’ve ever heard or read about yourself?

In an interview, someone once described me as all of these really flattering things including ‘funny’. That surprised me, because in my mind it was a really serious interview and I gave very serious answers. Obviously, something went wrong.

If you weren’t writing, what do you think you’d be doing instead?

Although writing is a significant part of my creative practice, my work involves directing, producing, editing, catering, complaining about lack of funding opportunities, stalking actors, begging for equipment discounts and all the other glamorous things involved with filmmaking. Just kidding about the stalking thing. I’d probably be a professional 80s breakdancer (as opposed to an aspiring one – which is what I am now) if I couldn’t make films.

There’s much debate on whether creative writing can be taught – what’s your view?

I’ve found that the most difficult thing about writing isn’t the writing part itself – it’s learning to value your own voice.

Especially when I’m teaching in community contexts with people who haven’t ever made films, I always talk about how their voices matter, their stories are important. Sure, we can teach the technical side of storytelling, but in the end, I think it’s a lot about confidence, being able to take the first steps and valuing your own voice. You can’t teach that stuff; only encourage it. Those lessons comes from life, I reckon.

What’s your advice for someone wanting to be a writer?

Get it written, then get it right.

Write stuff. Talk to professionals who are doing what you want to do. Upskill and keep learning. Find your people. Repeat.

Do you buy your books online, in a physical bookshop, or both?

Online.

If you could go out to dinner with any fictional character, who would it be and why?

Gandalf from The Lord of the Rings. I’d ask him to hit me up with some of that Elven bread and make some fireworks. I’d also want to try on his hat.

What’s the book that’s had the most significant impact on your life or work – and why?

I can’t choose a book because the answer is actually the oral histories, songs and stories that I’ve heard from my family in the Solomon Islands, and the communities I’ve worked with. These stories aren't written down, but they’ve had a huge impact on my life and work.

Portrait of Amie Batalibasi

Amie Batalibasi is an Australian Solomon Islander (Kosi/Feralimae) writer, director, producer and the 2017 Merata Mita Fellow through the Sundance Institute Native American and Indigenous Film Program. 

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