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By Erin Phelan

SUVA, Fiji Islands (May 2000 - PINA Nius Online/ Niuswire)---One of the smallest countries in the world is about to enter the spotlight.

This week, a documentary based on the 20th Anniversary of Independence in Tuvalu, entitled 'Tu Toko Tasi' (Stand by Yourself), will be screened at INPUT 2000, an International Public Television conference in Halifax, Canada.

Over 1,000 filmmakers and storytellers from around the world will be in attendance.

"I think it is important for the Pacific to have a voice at the world level, and for people from around the world to understand what the Pacific is all about, beyond the tourist brochures," said Conrad Mill.

Mill, who wrote, directed, and produced ‘Tu Toko Tasi’, a Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) production, will attend the conference along with three Pacific Island female documentary makers.

The women -- Faiesea Lei Sam-Matafeo of Samoa, Jennifer Kausei of Vanuatu, and Nauna Paango of Tonga -- are part of UNESCO's Pacific Women Television Producers Workshop and Exchange Program.

Though their documentaries will not be screened, Mill said the conference provides a chance for them to liaise with other up and coming filmmakers.

"I think of this an opportunity for us to be able to network, to meet contacts from around the world and look at public broadcasting in other countries -- how they go about getting funding and all that," said Mills.

‘Tu Toko Tasi’ beat out 1,500 entries from over 50 countries to win one of the 80 coveted spots in the screening program.

In its 22nd year, INPUT 2000 brings together producers, directors, broadcasters, commissioning editors, writers, experts in communication and all those interested in quality television from all over the world, to share stories and debate public television at an international forum.

Mill traveled to Tuvalu to cover the events surrounding the country's Independence Day celebrations. He said it was fascinating to capture how Tuvaluans feel about their small nation:

"They are fiercely proud, and incredibly nationalistic," said Mills, in an interview prior to departing for Canada. "At the time, they wanted to break away from Britain for a variety of reasons. It was a pretty big step for such a small country."

Tuvalu gained independence from Britain on October 1, 1978. Until October 1975, it was part of the British colony of the Gilbert (Kiribati) and Ellice (Tuvalu) Islands. There are only nine atolls that make up Tuvalu, of which only eight are permanently inhabited. Prior to Independence, the British kept their headquarters for the colony on Tarawa in the Gilbert Islands.

"Tuvaluans felt they weren't getting a good deal," said Mill. "Most of the infrastructure was in what is now known as Kiribati, and when Tuvalu made the move to separate, the British put a certain number of conditions on doing so -- such as, all movable assets on Tuvalu (such as buildings, furniture) be taken back to Kiribati.

"The first Prime Minister points out in the film that Tuvaluans would have been left with nothing, and the British actions and attitude suggested that 'they'll be back.' But that just wasn't the case."

The documentary incorporates interviews with the four Tuvaluan Prime Minister's since independence and on-the-street interviews with Tuvaluans.

The film was an official request from the government of Tuvalu to record the monumental occasion. Mills said he was unclear of his vision when he arrived on the small island nation, but that the film took shape through the interview subjects.

"What comes out in the film is that they know they will never achieve full independence, that economic independence is hard, and that they will always have to rely on donor aid."

At the time Mill and his film crew arrived on the island, the government was engaged in talks with investors to sell its Internet country code, '.tv' to an overseas market. Mill didn't include this in the film, due to uncertainties surrounding whether the deal would go through.

A bidding war between media companies in the United States has been waged for the past few years. Companies believe they can make a fortune from selling websites, such as "www.AllyMcBeal.tv," to interested parties.

However, a deal was struck in April with California-based DotTV. Backed by Idealab, an Internet business involved with e-commerce and Internet service providers, DotTV agreed to pay Tuvalu an exorbitant amount of money.

According to the Los Angeles Times, DotTV has agreed to pay the world's smallest nation $50 million in royalties -- or roughly three times the country's gross domestic product -- over the next decade. This sum will be contingent on sales of .tv websites. The government has stated in previous media reports that they will use the royalties to staff hospitals, build classrooms and for general infrastructure purposes.

Perhaps economic independence isn't so hard after all.

Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) Website: http://www.pinanius.org 

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