Paying it Forward – An Interview with Awa Puna

11 December 2017

18 year old Awa Puna is a big believer in encouraging creativity in young people.


She has been involved in the Roxy5 Short Film Competition for the last two years, as both a participant and, in 2017, a mentor to other young people. Presented by Capital E and Miramar Creative Ltd, Roxy5 is an annual short film competition for Year 7-13 students from across the Greater Wellington region. The young people are challenged to create their own short film incorporating three essential elements unique to each year.

Awa found the reactions of the rangatahi one of the most rewarding aspects of being involved in mentoring.

“The kids’ faces lighting up when they saw their film on the big screen was the most liberating part of helping them. It was cool to see a few of them break through confidence barriers they had earlier struggled with. Considering we were gifted knowledge from wise professionals from the industry and also personal experiences, it was lovely to pass that on to other rangatahi,” she says.

Film-making has played a big part in Awa’s life, a pursuit which has provided an important outlet for her during some challenging times.

“I went through some tough times with my self-identity being a transgender girl. Filmmaking was almost escapism for me especially when I was younger. I found it hard having to live a life as a boy everyday instead of who I was really born to be – a girl. But by making films, I was able to enter another world, even become another character,” she says.

Awa was a recipient of two awards at the 2015 Wellington Pride Awards which recognised her YouTube channel which explored her experiences growing up as a transgender girl. Being named “Most Inspiring Young Person” and receiving the ‘Creativity and Innovation Award’ were fitting acknowledgements of both her journey, and how she has used her filmmaking talents to connect with others. Awa also featured in a TVNZ Sunday documentary called Born This Way: Awa’s Story proving she’s a natural in front of the camera, as well as behind.

Along the way, Awa has had the full support of her amazing whānau and friends who have been steadfast in their encouragement in every aspect of her life. They continue to back her dream of being a film-maker which she is passionate about.

“I love the idea of creating another world within film – exploring things that don’t even exist in real life, like fantasy locations, characters and storylines. I like to test my comfort zone when on set and analyse how I can do things better next time. I know it can be a tough making it in the industry while making a stable living, but I truly believe that with enough ambition and passion can get you there,” she says.

You get the sense that Awa is a young woman who makes things happen and we’re looking forward to seeing her name in lights before too long.