After much anticipation Friday January 20th finally arrived and with hard won Sundance Film Festival tickets in hand we stood in line for the opening night showing of The Orator. As expected, it was sold out so we made sure to be there an hour early to get a good spot in line. When we got there however, we discovered that others had already been standing in line for 4 hours just to be sure they too got a good seat. What surprised me was the fact that they weren’t Samoans, they weren’t even Polynesians. I was happy that a Samoan film by a Samoan filmmaker had the kind of draw that it did to bring out such a diverse audience.
I’ll come right out and tell you, I loved the film. Yes, I was moved by the story line, the love and companionship between such an unlikely couple and the courage of one that is often looked upon as being the least of us. I loved the way our culture was portrayed in the film. It depicted our Samoan way of life with the kind of unapologetic brutal honesty that only one who has lived the fa’aSamoa can do but it was done so with great respect for the Samoan culture and people.
I said unapologetic brutal honesty because it depicted many things that perhaps we’d rather the whole world doesn’t see like the makape’ape’a that sometimes accompanies the si’is or the way we treat others who are different. But this does happen in Samoa. I saw it growing up, I still see it sometimes when I visit Samoa. These scenes weren’t a figment of the writer’s imagination, he too saw it growing up in Samoa. The only difference between us is that Tusi had the talent and the courage to bring these scenes to life in a way that tells this story of Samoa. Our Samoan way of life isn’t always perfect or fair but then what way of life is?
I loved the fact that the whole film was in Samoan. I felt so proud to be Samoan and sitting in that audience with other Samoan families as well as Tongans, palagis, sainas, meaulis, and a host of other ethnic groups. They laughed along with us at the typical fob jokes. They got it, they really did! A Tongan even asked Tusi during the Q&A session if he would consider directing a film in Tongan. High praise indeed, don’t you think?
The artistry alone was worth the ticket to the movie. Our Samoa is certainly a beautiful country, isn’t it? Looking at the lush greenery and scenery made me yearn for another visit to Samoa. And the sound of the rain on the tin rooftops, who can forget that? Definitely brought back memories of falling asleep to that special melody. Did I even stop to notice that when I was young girl in Samoa? Probably not as it was just another beat in the harmony that makes up the rhythm of life that is uniquely Samoan.
The Orator is a film that transcends ethnic and language barriers and touches the humanity in all of us. It felt real and true! It’s not a story that is only based in Samoa with a sprinkling of Samoan characters, quotes and scenes. It wasn’t a ripoff of another film or book masquerading as a Samoan movie. Rather, it is a Samoan story, the heart and soul of the film is Samoan, and that more than any of the many other excellent aspects of this film is what I love the most about The Orator.
One of the greatest contributions this film has made is introducing the Samoan culture and way of life to young Samoans growing up outside of Samoa. The Orator has sparked a renewed sense of cultural pride in a whole new generation of Samoans as indicated by the number of comments from young Samoan Americans professing their love of their culture and for being Samoans on facebook. What other book or movie about Samoa can say that?
Fa’amalo Tusi, well done. Like we told you Friday night, you did us so proud. We also liked your response when asked about the slow pace of the movie, you’re right, it is at the pace of life in Samoa. We’ve become so accustomed to life in the fast lane and movies that go bang from the word go that we’ve become impatient with movies and scripts that make us wait. We have to re-learn how to savor people, fai fai malie, folofolo lemu ae aua le so’o ga kolupu pei o se ai u, lol. I asked you if you’re planning to make more movies in Samoa and in the Samoan language and I really hope that you will. Will there be a sequel to The Orator? For one thing, I’m hoping that you’ll confirm the suspicion that I have about Litia’s father because if I’m reading between the lines correctly then it can only be one person. So to be continued…hopefully?