On Saturday 4th August 2012, the world premiere of the feature documentary film Tongan Ark took place at the Skycity Theatre, Auckland City. The theatre seats 700 people and the tickets to this event sold out before the screening date. It was a huge success! I had the pleasure in attending this event with just over 40 of my family members and friends. We thoroughly enjoyed the film and the heart-warming live Tongan performances by Helu’s family, students and ex-students of ‘Atenisi which followed.
Tongan Ark’s film director Paul Janman and his wife, the film producer, Echo Janman, presented a profoundly moving tribute to the late Professor Futa Helu and for ‘Atenisi, the private university that Helu founded in Tonga in the 1960’s. I had the honour of meeting both Paul and Echo in the lead up to the premiere and thereafter. They are such a wonderful couple! From Janman’s film, I found Helu to be a pioneer in his endeavour to preserve and celebrate the Tongan arts within the establishment of ‘Atenisi. He challenged the thought processes and systems of beliefs embedded within the heart of the Tongan community and Tongan polity. Despite conflict and financial hardships, ‘Atenisi has seen graduates lead successful lives within and outside of Tonga. Helu was a man of valour. He was a bold intellectual. He was a fearless visionary. What an inspiration! I never had the chance to meet him in person prior to his passing in 2010. However, my parents and I were blessed to have met his daughter, Sisi’uno Helu, in the lead up to the world premiere of Tongan Ark. She is a beautiful and humble woman. With the help of family and colleagues, Sisi’uno Helu will continue her father’s legacy.
A synopsis of the documentary film Tongan Ark states: “Paul Janman’s film Tongan Ark is a portrait of ‘Atenisi, the private university Helu created in a swamp on the edge of Tonga’s capital city Nuku’alofa in the 1960s. Helu believed that European and Polynesian cultures needed to learn and borrow from one another, and the staff of ‘Atenisi put his ideas into practice by offering courses in grand opera and English literature as well as traditional Tongan music and dance. ‘Atenisi is the Tongan word for Athens, and Helu wanted to emulate ancient Greek philosophers like Socrates by promoting reasoned and open debate, even when such debate touched on controversial political issues.
Although it has always struggled for funding and resources, ‘Atenisi has had a huge influence on Tonga and on the wider Pacific region. Because of its emphasis on freedom of thought, ‘Atenisi was the cradle of the pro-democracy movement which swept Tonga in the nineties and noughties. Many of the school’s graduates have enjoyed distinguished careers inside and outside Tonga.
Tongan Ark shows the joys and tribulations of ‘Atenisi’s staff and students, as they celebrate learning and battle against poverty and political persecution. The film ends by showing Helu’s funeral in 2010, and by noting the determination of his colleagues to keep ‘Atenisi open” (Tongan Ark Film).
Here is the trailer for the film Tongan Ark:
The Tongan Ark world premiere also saw the launch of a publication by the late Professor Futa Helu entitled On Tongan Poetry. Scott Hamilton, a New Zealand scholar and poet, provides the introduction and afterword for this particular book thus shedding light onto Helu’s extensive works. This book compiles six essays that Helu had written in the 1980’s. The book is accompanied by a DVD of an informative interview that was conducted by Tongan Ark’s Film Director Paul Janman with the late Professor Futa Helu in 2006. My Father had purchased a copy of this book and DVD for me last night at the premiere and in my excitement, I managed to read the book and watch the DVD today.
Published by Atuanui Press with the support of Creative New Zealand, On Tongan Poetry offers Futa Helu’s insight into the classification of Tongan poetry based on the consideration of some of its general compositions in relation to English poetry. Helu discusses and illustrates how Tongan poetry is generally constructed, how it can be divided chronologically into ancient and modern periods. In addition, Helu delves into the intricacies of Tongan poetry, dance and music and how the unity of the three existed especially in the art of ancient Tonga. Tongan poetry is included in this book with English translations as he analyses each piece to make sense of the general trend of ideas and thoughts embedded in it. There is so much more to this book. You would have to purchase a copy and see for youself.🙂 The book and DVD both have given me a deeper understanding of Tongan poetry and its historical beginnings. It is a priceless book and DVD to have in hand. I highly recommend it!
Paul and Echo Janman, Sisi’uno Helu and the Helu family, the students and ex-students of ‘Atenisi would have made the late Professor Futa Helu extremely proud at the world premiere of the feature documentary film Tongan Ark. The late Professor Futa Helu was an incredible man and I truly believe that his legacy will undoubtedly live on.
On Tongan Poetry can be purchased online on this link here: Atuanui Press
For further information about the documentary film Tongan Ark please visit their facebook page: Tongan Ark Film
Since the Tongan Ark, I have been listening to the Afokoula singers of ‘Atenisi. Here is an audio link where they sing a song that was written by Her Majesty the late Queen Sālote Mafile‘o Pilolevu Tupou III. The song is entitled Hala Kuo Papa which is a Tongan proverb that is widely used in reference to a path that is well traveled so much so that it leaves a visible course for others to follow. This particular proverb, in my eyes, perfectly describes Paul and Echo Janman’s work on Tongan Ark and I also believe that the proverb is also significant in describing the late Professor Futa Helu’s legacy.
Reviews on the Tongan Ark: