Samoan language film is NZ entry to Oscars

MUMBAI: 36-year old Tusi Tamasese‘s debut feature, The Orator, is New Zealand‘s first-ever entry in the foreign-language Oscar race. The film happens to be the first feature shot entirely in the Samoan language and also the first to be filmed in the South Pacific island of Upolu.

The Orator focuses on Saili, the son of the dead village chief who has been ostracized by the community because he is a dwarf. Quiet and unassuming, Saili is forced to defend his family and way of life with nothing more than words and the power of his voice. In doing so, he claims his rightful place as chief of the community.

Tamasese, who grew up on Upolu, the smaller of Samoa‘s two islands, says it was important that Samoa become a character in the film.

While he wrote the script in English and translated it back into Samoan language, he says he was careful to maintain authenticity by shooting on location with a mostly untrained local cast. Capturing the rhythms and cadence of spoken Samoan were important to the film‘s plot particularly the difference between the villagers‘ everyday musical language and the orators‘ more formal speech, according to Tamasese.

Tamasese‘s ambling, observant directing style, which he says is derived from traditional Samoan storytelling, has wowed international critics and festival audiences alike.

Orator was showered with honors upon its premiere at the Venice International Film Festival, where it was named best film by the CinemAvvenire youth jury, took the top prize from Europe‘s art house cinemas association and received a special mention from the jurors of the Venice Horizons sidebar. And star Fiaula Sanote has picked up a best actor nomination from the Asia Pacific Screen Awards, to be handed out in November.

Amid all of the plaudits, the soft-spoken Tamasese remains humble. He has an idea for his next project but doesn‘t want to give away details. His hope, he says, is that Orator will pave the way for a new Samoan style of filmmaking "that equally tells a Pacific Island story that the whole cinema world can understand and appreciate."

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