A Footscray film-maker is on the path to producing her first feature-length film after being awarded a prestigious fellowship.

Amie Batalibasi is the 2017 recipient of the Sundance Institute Merata Mita Fellowship, named in honour of the trailblazing late Māori filmmaker.

The Australian Solomon Islander, selected from a global pool of nominees, will receive a cash grant and year-long support, including mentorship opportunities and a trip to the Sundance Film Festival.

Bird Runningwater, director of the Sundance Institute Native American and Indigenous Film Program, said Batalibasi’s passion to collaborate with diverse communities at a grassroots level was carrying on the mission of Merata Mita.

“We are extremely proud to continue Merata’s efforts with this fellowship, which pays tribute to her immense contributions and passes along her spirit to a new generation of indigenous artists such as Amie,” he said.

Speaking from the festival in Utah, Batalibasi said the fellowship would kickstart the journey to making her first feature film.

“Being here at the Sundance Film Festival is fantastic,” she said. “ I’ve been able to meet many other indigenous filmmakers, see some inspirational films and make important industry contacts,” she said.

“This is monumental because it can be a really tough road to be heard in this industry.”

Batalibasi’s feature adaptation of her award-winning short film, Blackbird, will explore the little-known history of Australia’s sugar slaves.

It will shine a light on the dark late-1800s history of “blackbirding”, in which about 60,000 Pacific Islanders were coerced or kidnapped to labour on Australia’s sugar cane and cotton farms.

Batalibasi said the fellowship win acknowledged that the story of blackbirding needs to be told.

“The history of Australia’s sugar slaves is little known and I’m hoping to change that.”