The film premiered this week (8 April) in London’s Covent Garden district, the cultural hub of the city, and had to be moved to a bigger cinema screen after attracting a near sell-out audience. Most had never had the opportunity to watch a film about PNG.
The High Commissioners of New Zealand and Tonga attended the premiere with large numbers of their staff members, alongside representatives from the Australian High Commission, the Commonwealth Secretariat, Commonwealth Foundation, the Rugby League International Federation and other sporting organisations, including the Pacific UK Sports Club.
The film’s director, Joanna Lester, who grew up in London before moving to PNG to work in rugby league, also attended during a visit to launch the film in the UK.
Kiap, who has been PNG’s representative in the UK since 2011, said the film tells the story of the next generation of ground-breaking PNG women who are changing their country through sport.
“This film intends to portray that, from a difficult environment, women are coming out of the woodwork and fulfilling their dream to play rugby league, to represent their country, but most of all to excel in their sport and to exercise their right to open all doors and to walk through them,” she said in her opening speech.
“I know the difficulties only too well. We live in parallel universes in PNG, where women have to emerge from one universe and cross to the other in order to find their voice and potential, to define themselves according to their dreams rather than according to cultural prescriptions.
“The PNG Orchids are perhaps two generations from me. The mental shift has been great from my time to theirs. The emerging women of PNG are finding that they have the power to determine their own destiny through education, through sport.
“If there is a critical mass of them to deflect cultural dictates which include domestic and other forms of violence against them, to set up examples of freedom to choose, then they leave a legacy for those following them.
“This film’s tagline is, ‘Can one team realise the dream of millions?’ I say it has to, and it will. Until recently, rugby league was seen as a men’s sport. But if you go to watch a women’s rugby league game now in PNG, I am sure you will see that more than half of the spectators will be men.
“That is a huge indication of barriers coming down and a huge investment of social capital in women in rugby league.
“I thank Joanna for this film, for her effort to use this medium to bring change to women’s status in PNG, as well as to show that changes are happening. I wish her success as she takes the film to other UK cities and hope that her audience will recognise the determination of young PNG women to set their own goals and to find ways of reaching them.”
The launch of Power Meri in the UK is supported by Rugby League World Cup 2021, which will be staged in England.
The women’s and men’s tournaments will run alongside each other, and the number of countries in the women’s world cup will increase to eight (from six in 2017). UK Super League clubs are organising and supporting screenings of Power Meri, using the story of the PNG Orchids to promote women’s rugby league in England between now and the world cup.
Since its release in October 2018, Power Meri continues to screen in cinemas across Australia, and NRL clubs including the Dragons and the Bulldogs have shown the film to their players.
It has also been selected for film festivals in the USA and French Polynesia.
(PNG High Commissioner, Her Excellency Winnie Kiap, centre left, and ‘Power Meri’ director Joanna Lester, centre right, were joined by Tongan High Commissioner, Titilupe Fanetupouvava’u Tu’ivakano, second from left, and New Zealand High Commissioner, Sir Jerry Mateparae, second from right, at the film's London premiere)