One of the most influential benefits of Melbourne WebFest is the colossal array of documentaries received that exhibit a plethora of diverse backgrounds.

Exploring these windows into different lives and cultures allow us to gain an understanding of what it means to be human, and presents us with a new perspective on life.

To the east of Australia, and just a hop skip and jump across the Tasman Sea, Lanita Ririnui, producer and director of Poi – Hopes and Dreams (NZL), has provided us with a unique insight into the intrinsic connection Māori mothers from different tribal affiliations have with the poi.

“For us as Māori, our connection with poi goes back to our genealogy and our connections to the earth mother and sky father and the beginnings of the world. Poi is an instrument from the earth, and so too are we. So there is an essence about the way we connect to poi that is more than just a performance device as seen around the world,” Ririnui says.

The series was inspired by a personal prose that Ririnui had written for her daughter. “It was at a time when I was thinking about what it was I really wanted to give her as a mother. Life lessons and values aren’t physical things you can give and Māori can be very poetic and proverbial in the way we share these,” says Ririnui.

“So I wrote life lessons through the personification of poi as my instrument of expression. Poi is a tool that intrinsically helps you understand your physical, mental and spiritual self and the world. The process of writing then made me wonder what hopes and dreams other mums had for their daughters, and an idea for the series was born.”

Inspired by a Māori worldview, the series is a visual reflection of the relationship between a mother and child. “We allowed the women to share honestly and we did our best to direct visuals to portray each vignette like a moving portrait of them and their children. It is humbling to have every one of these amazing women share in this series,” Ririnui says.

The web series itself features vibrant landscapes that hold significant meaning to the women. Acknowledging their background as part of their identities, Ririnui says the choice of location was made with special care to reflect each woman. “As Māori, we are where we are from and acknowledge that as part of our identity. So, each woman is filmed in an area that they either link back to genealogically or a place they reside in that has influenced who they are.”

“This series is for every child who dreams of the world, and every parent who hopes to give it to them. Hopes and Dreams are our magic connections to each other.”

There are unique, talented woman spread across this great world of ours, some being closer than others. Another island in the southern hemisphere being featured in the 2018 Melbourne WebFest is Tasmania.

“Our aim has always been to show and share the extraordinary stories of Tasmanian women and give voice to those that often don’t get heard,” says Ninna Millikin, just one of the team of three creators behind the creation of Women Of The Island (AUS).

Millikin, together with Lara van Ray and Rebecca Thompson, are shedding light on the diverse and inspiring women who inhabit the island of Tasmania, through a series of short documentaries.

“As a team, we are women telling women’s stories because we want to celebrate everyday women around us, and to address the lack of women’s stories in the telling of history,” says Millikin. “Women rarely feature in Tasmania’s historical records. This is our way of making a statement that women’s stories are just as valuable and deserve to be told”.

Milkin says each location was an essential piece in the puzzle of telling the story of the women selected in the web series. “It was the only way we could’ve captured these stories. All of the women have a connection to land, whether it’s Madeline Wells who is a young Tasmanian Aboriginal woman, Jenine Olbrich who is 6th generation Cygnet and a cattle farmer or Julia Drouhin who’s sound performance work is inspired by Tasmania’s haunting beauty.”

Representing the stories of the women’s lives, the proudest moment for Millikin is the knowledge that her film is something that the women and their families can look at and feel proud of. “Even meeting people in the street who are very appreciative of our series is a huge pay off for the hard work we put into it,” says Millikin.

Further north of the equator, web series Chinese Dream (GER) presents the disposition of two different cultures and how they interact with each other while living in close proximity.

Black China (2017) is a feature length documentary that explores an African milieu in the City of Guangzhou, China. Created to reflect the African perspective on the migration to China, it left a hole in the narrative. What is the local perspective? Further investigation was needed and thus, Chinese Dream was born.

“The film and the web series have become a transmedia and transnational project, both shot in the Guangzhou city, but featuring different protagonists,” says Lena Karbe, producer and co-director alongside Tristan Coloma.

“China is not a country usually associated with immigration. It is a relatively new process to them. For the non-Chinese audience, Chinese people are sometimes quite blunt about their feelings, which sometimes comes across as shocking, particularly to a European viewer. We believe that it’s important to differentiate where racism begins and where someone expresses their feelings in an unconventional way,” says the co-directors.

“We have noticed during pitchings of Chinese Dream that the audience immediately had clichés in their head that had nothing to do with the reality. The irony is that the Western audience has preconceived ideas about both sides, the African as well as the Chinese. It has become nowadays sort of a cliché to say that the project breaks the clichés, but in the case of Chinese Dream it’s true.”

Working with several different protagonists came with its issues, but thanks to the freedom associated with the web format, Karbe and Coloma were able to bring together people from different areas and social status’ to incorporate the different perspectives of immigration.

“Because the web series format is flexible in many ways, it was perfect to support our short documentary series. We used minimal graphical elements, no text and no voice over. We let the protagonists talk themselves about their experiences.”

One of the greatest challenges the team faced was to get the cast comfortable enough speak openly. “We were not interested in polite or politically correct statements. The key was spending enough time with them and getting to know them… our proudest moment was the moment the protagonists were willing to open up to us about their lives.”

In the spirit of cultural fusion, the score of the series was made using a combination of Chinese and African musical instruments. “This fusion is made by little touches, step by step, by slight progress… the minimal music is coherent, in connection with the progress of the interactions between the Chinese people and the African people,” says Karbe and Coloma.

“Our idea is that in many cases a rejection of someone who is different from us comes from simple ignorance. The more one gets to know the other side – less xenophobic one is.”

Catch the action of these web series at Melbourne WebFest 2018.