British sports journalist and broadcaster Joanna Lester, who ‘grew up surrounded by rugby league’, is the director of an extraordinary documentary telling the historic story of the women of Papua New Guinea and the Orchids’ fight to form a national rugby league side for the 2017 World Cup.
Lester (right) moved to Australia and later Papua New Guinea in 2014 to work for a rugby league-themed program striving to promote social change through the sport.
In Port Moresby, she worked alongside many female rugby league players and saw the potential of women’s rugby league to change lives and attitudes in PNG. The country is regarded as one of the most dangerous in the world, where women are of lowly status and often the victims of violence.
When, in early 2016, it was confirmed that PNG would field a side in the 2017 women’s Rugby League World Cup for the first time, Joanna began documenting the stories of players and the journey of the team to create a film that would share the Orchids’ story with audiences throughout PNG and far beyond, at a time when women’s sport is finally starting to command the attention it deserves.
The film has been hailed at film festivals in Australia, the USA and Tahiti and now Power Meri is hitting UK cinemas on limited release.
Lester said: “Living in PNG and hearing the inspiring stories of female rugby league players, who were changing attitudes about women in their communities through playing the country’s male-dominated national sport, I always thought their voices deserved to be heard on a wider scale.
“When it was confirmed that PNG would form a national women’s team, the Orchids, to participate in the world cup for the first time, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to document that journey and share the story with national and international audiences.
“Since we released the film in Australia and PNG, the response has been overwhelming. The story of the Orchids seems to have truly inspired people within and outside of sport. As a filmmaker, it’s a privilege to be able to share a raw and real story from behind the scenes of women’s sport in a country that is rarely portrayed on the big screen.
“ I hope the story of this extraordinary group of women, who have put their hands up to be part of something ground-breaking, despite criticism and barriers, will inspire audiences everywhere.”
Power Meri premieres in London on Monday 8 April at Odeon Covent Garden and will screen at selected cinemas across England – Manchester, Huddersfield and Warrington. Tickets are only available online at: uk.demand.film/power-meri/