(Honolulu, HAWAI'I)--Family, education, military service and deployment, farming, business, disputes over land and romantic relationships that span from American Samoa to the USA – from Tutuila and Manu’a to Iraq – that's real life for American Samoans in 2013 and that is what viewers will see in Heart to Heart: Fatu O Le Alofa, the new American Samoa film that held its U.S. premiere in Hawai'i last week.
More than 100 people joined Atoa-O-Ali’i for the premiere held Wednesday, July 24 at the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Hall at the US Veterans Memorial at Ke’ehi Lagoon Park in Honolulu. Atoa-O-Ali’i, the Hawai’i-based council of Samoan chiefs and orators led by High Talking Chief Lupeomatasila Williams – is main sponsor of the premiere and Hawai’i showings for Fatu O Le Alofa.
American Samoa-born Hawai’i State Sen. Mike Gabbard, Afimutasi Gus Hannemann, director of the American Samoa Government Office-Hawai’i and Dr. Salu Hunkin-Finau, director of the American Samoa Department of Education, were among the dignitaries in attendance.
The film is a milestone for the territory which celebrated its 113th year under the U.S. flag in April. It is the very first full length motion picture written, filmed, produced and directed in – and by – residents of American Samoa.
Fatu O Le Alofa came about when non-profit Families Student Support (FamSS) Production Group, which coordinates after school projects for teens, hired film school graduate Zena Noah Iese, a native of Hawai'i, and his crew to create the movie. Three crews collaborated on the making of this film as executive producers: FamSS Group Production, the American Samoa Actors Association (ASAA) and Iese’s all new Navigator Island Pictures. This is Iese's first time in the director's role.
"We started with little or no money to produce this movie,” Rev. Sam Unutoa, one of the executive producers, told attendees during the Hawai’i premiere. “We’re thankful…we made this movie on a wing and a prayer.”
Fundraisers were held and his old truck was even sold to fund the film, the flick utilizing a budget of less than $5,000. Noting the multi-billion dollar entertainment industry is the second largest in the world, behind food, Unutoa said that American Samoa seeks to tap into a percentage of it.
There are no laws that govern the movie industry, said Unutoa. He hopes new laws that will be put in place for the industry will help to “make it grow.”
“[P]erhaps it will create more and more movies. [W]e never dreamed we’d be here. We never dreamed we’d have a showing here in Hawai’i,” he said, thanking viewers for their presence. “This is just a start.”
An invocation was offered by Bishop Filipo Ilaoa, leader of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day-Saints Maili Kai Ward. Welcome remarks were also offered by Iese, HTC Lupeomatasila, Chairman of the Fatu O Le Alofa Komiti Hawai'i Pulefano Galea'i, Hunkin-Finau, Gabbard and Hannemann.
Fatu O Le Alofa begins with a fishing scene, set in the early morning hours in a day in the life of standout student Ryanna, played by Christine Sissy Unutoa, 2013 graduate of Samoana High School.
It's just a few days before the young woman leaves American Samoa's to attend college on a scholarship, in the United States.
Ryanna is the epitome of the perfect Samoan daughter: obedient, smart, honest, compassionate, hard-working and humble. She works their plantation with her mother Marina to earn an income. Life and financial planning are geared toward supporting the girl's college education.
Her father, Ryanna learned growing up, was killed in Iraq.
The characters are very likable and very real. There is the over-protective Samoan brother, the snobby self-centered cashier who operates her mom's store, an evil sister, a loving sister, a supportive loyal friend, a family matai with health issues, an Indian car shop owner, village hoodlums and real life American Samoa Department of Public Safety police detectives. Even up against other suitors -- it is the hired plantation help who wins the heart of the beautiful Ryanna.
A sinister plot against Marina, initiated by an evil sister -- over land -- changes Ryanna's life. She must leave her studies and return to Tutuila.
Humor is injected throughout the film, providing insight into how Samoans use laughter to cope with life's challenges. An old woman at the Wednesday premiere was seen sharing her box of Kleenex tissues with other audience members -- during two scenes.
Hannemann said he was happy to represent the Office of American Samoa Governor Lolo M. Moliga, noting "this is one of the things he [Lolo] wants to perpetuate." He added Lolo supports these types of programs for youth so that youngsters can have more than Lotu Tamaiti (celebrated every October) to look forward to each year.
Sam told tautalatala.com that FamSS was founded by his daughter Maddy Unutoa, a National History Day winner from American Samoa, who started the non-profit with five friends several years ago. The group now includes 40 students from six different high schools, the reverend said.
Iese told tautalatala.com that they are looking at having a third showing in Laie this week. Their second showing was held at Foster Village July 25 that drew less than 50 people. If the film receives the green light in Laie, viewers will see a version edited late last week by Iese, for a Latter-Day-Saint audience. Bar, smoking and drinking scenes will have been cut.
In addressing the crowd at last week's premiere, Sen. Gabbard relayed regrets and well wishes from his daughter U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard who serves Hawai'i's Second District in the U.S. Congress. She was born in American Samoa.
"Tulsi sends her very best from D.C.," the senator said, "she would like to have been here for the film."
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