‘We have started a conversation’
Tupaia is one of eleven films in competition at this 13th FIFO. Directed by Lala Rolls, it tells the story of the great Polynesian navigator and his adventure on board Captain Cook’s expedition ship, the Endeavour. On Friday 5th February, some members of the documentary team discuss the background to the filming at Inside the Doc.
‘The film crew that arrived in Tahiti was far from conventional.’ On the Maison de la Culture paepae, Eliane Koller, producer of the documentary Tupaia, describes what lies behind the film at Inside the Doc. The venue was packed. Tupaia seems to spark curiosity. ‘In the team, there was a tahua (editor’s note: priest) from New Zealand for ceremonies at the marae. It’s not only a film, it’s a work full of energy to re-establish the connection between Tahiti and New Zealand.’ Sitting alongside him in an armchair, hiding in the shade of the banyan tree, the director Lala Rolls, and Michel Tuffery, a Maori artist and one of the characters in the film, agree with the comments of their producer. Micaël Taputu, who is in the communications department of the OPT, is facilitating this meeting with the FIFO public. He asks the questions to begin with, before handing over to the crowd.
An open conversation
‘We are surprised to see in the film that Tupaia is unknown in Tahiti,’ states the interviewer. Lala Rolls is quick to answer. ‘Indeed. We went to see the navigators of the dugout canoe faafaite, we learnt some things from them, but likewise they knew little about the subject,’ explained this fifty-something exuding energy. Once the director got hold of the microphone, she didn’t want to let go. She enjoys sharing her experience, describing how the actor in the film had to travel with the faafaite to immerse himself in the character, how he spent hours swimming naked in cold water with sharks below him to shoot a scene, and how the young people, responsible for the haka (war cry) in the film, were very moved by this, a haka which, according to Lala Rolls, is an angry cry against Tupaia accused of having taken Cook to the New Zealand coast. She also likes to reiterate that Tupaia shadowed and guided them throughout the whole production. ‘En route we always met the right people, sometimes by pure coincidence,’ explains Lala Rolls before handing the microphone over to her friend next to her Michel Tuffery. The Maori artist also has something to say. ‘We were destined to meet Tupaia. We have started a conversation and things have been revealed. We obtained many different perspectives. This conversation must continue…’
Amongst the public, a Polynesian mama, wearing a traditional hat, tries to interrupt this high-powered duo but it is no use. When the microphone is held out to her, this FIFO regular simply points out Tupaia’s ario’i status. Lala Rolls and Michel Tuffery thank her for this important detail. ‘Does this film have a political interest?’ intervenes a man sitting in the first row. ‘This Polynesian story has always been told by Westerners, so we only have one perspective,’ the director responds. ‘I was fed up about that. I needed to change perspective. We have to see the other side of the story,’ explains the Maori artist in turn. He also responds with great conviction to the question about the marae Taputapuatea in Raiatea being part of UNESCO, as France owns it. This situation saddens Lala Rolls, but not Michel Tuffery. ‘You know Taputapuatea is a stopping point in Oceania. There are others, not just in Raiatea. We know the meaning of this place. We know where we are going. But westerners don’t! So, on reflection, it doesn’t matter.’ The facilitator Micaël Taputu, has trouble interrupting the conversation taking place between the film team and the public. The producer Eliane Koller intervenes in the end, and in some sense concludes Inside the Doc, ‘the greatest difficulty was the different language between French-speaking Tahiti, and English-speaking New Zealand. The future of Polynesia is therefore to speak several languages!’