Fatu O Le Alofa: a glimpse of life in a Samoan U.S. territory

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Heart to Heart: Fatu O Le Alofa photo
Members of the cast and crew of Heart to Heart: Fatu O Le Alofa, with supporters in Hawai'i.

(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.

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