Wednesday, July 04, 2012

From my lounge to the big time

There's a long road from my lounge, with its piles of half-read books and its artfully stained couches and its dinky pre-digital television, to the Sky City and Civic theatres, with their plush seats and vast screens and intricate sound systems. It has only taken six or so months, though, for Paul Janman and his movie Tongan Ark to make the journey from a shabby suburban room to the film temples of central Auckland.

Last January Paul hung a white bedsheet on the wall of my lounge and aimed an early version of Tongan Ark at it, while half a dozen or so of my dodgy mates nibbled sausages and pork chops and sipped beers.

Now Tongan Ark has been accepted for this year's Auckland International Film Festival, and will screen on August the 4th at the seven-hundred-seat Sky City Theatre. Paul plans to hold a post-screening function featuring opera singers, dancers, anthropologists, and poets in the Civic Theatre's lustrous Wintergarden lounge (check out that poster for more details). Paul's film has also been selected for Wellington's International Film Festival, which is held a little later in August.

After deciding to tell the story of the 'Atenisi Institute, a private university built in Tonga by the visionary intellectual and pro-democracy campaigner Futa Helu, Paul shot hundreds of hours of film. He managed to get hours of interviews of Helu in the can before the great man died in 2010, he talked to other staff and to students at 'Atenisi, and he shot a whole hour of electrifying footage after being caught up in the riot that levelled much of downtown Nuku'alofa in November 2006.

And Paul didn't only have his own footage to draw on: while working at 'Atenisi he discovered piles of VHS cassettes mouldering in a cupboard there. After taking these ancient artefacts home and cleansing them of cockroaches and dust he discovered music, poetry, and dance by the 'Atenisi Foundation for Performing Arts, as well as old graduation ceremonies full of oratory and laughter.

Although Paul had held a successful preview of Tongan Ark at the Auckland Film Archive near the end of 2011, he was still spending hours in the cutting room at the beginning of 2012, and he wasn't ready to accept all of the praise that was offered to his film after its lounge room debut. Paul was worried about the length of Tongan Ark.

Now and then a very long film makes a splash. Last year, for instance, a group of Helsinki artists won plaudits after their movie Modern Times Forever, which runs for ten full days, was played at a local film festival. Paul, though, doubts that Kiwis have the patience of Finns, who after all are used to waiting out weeks of midwinter darkness and symphonies by Sibelius, and has worked hard to reduce his film to what he considers a watchable length. The version of Tongan Ark he showed on my lounge room wall was shorter than the version which had played at the Film Archive; the version which has been accepted for the Auckland Film Festival is tighter still.

I must admit to having mixed feelings about Paul's success in breaking into Auckland's film fest. The generous part of me is delighted for him, but my selfish side is annoyed at the extra work he's causing me.

Early this year I helped Titus Books get funding from Creative New Zealand to publish a volume of Futa Helu's essays about Tongan poetry. I'd spotted Helu's essays in an old magazine called Fai Kava, and had thought they'd make an excellent introduction not just to traditional Tongan verse but to Helu's ideas about the necessity of culture-crossing and the superiority of the 'play of the mind' over dogmatic thinking. I loved the way that the essays leaped without warning from Polynesia to Europe, as Helu invoked one of his beloved Greek philosophers, or compared an ancient Tongan poet to Milton or Blake.

After Creative New Zealand had given On Tongan Poetry the thumbs up, Titus boss Brett Cross had planned to bring the book out near the end of the year. Once Paul's film cracked the festival, though,  Sisi'uno Helu, Futa's daughter and literary executor, felt that it would be nice to have the book in August. Brett agreed with her, and for the last week or so I've been scrambling to help him prepare Helu's texts for publication by hunting down typos, commissioning forewords and a cover, and tidying up my 2010 essay about 'Atenisi so that it can act as a sort of afterword.

With Brett cracking the whip, On Tongan Poetry will be available at that Wintergarden function on the evening of August the fourth. We hope that it will complement Tongan Ark, and help to introduce more Kiwis to Futa Helu. We'll see you at that Wintergarden kava bowl...

[Posted by Maps/Scott]


Anonymous Anonymous said...

So there may be a tidier second edition to look forward to in a few years? ; ).

8:19 am  
Anonymous Scott said...

Hi anon,

I think Paul eventually wants to put the shaggy dog and the tidied up versions of the film on one DVD. After the first preview of the film there was some disagreement about whether it needed tidying - 'Okusitino Mahina argued that its languid, defiantly non-linear nature reflected the Tongan way of 'walking backwards into the future and forwards into the past', but Roger Horrocks, amongst others, felt that a little revision was in order. I blogged about the preview version of the film and the debate it prompted:

12:23 pm  
Anonymous God of War said...

Paul Janman:

You need to shoot with Zeus' Fury. To get it (if you haven't got it already) you must return to the temple where the soldiers are shooting from the roof. Take the arrow shooter down to the lower level and use the lever to spin the shooter around till it faces the door. You'll find you'll be rewarded with Zeus' Fury within.

6:23 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

Has he left the Dutchman in?

7:24 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

Roger Horrocks "introduced" me to Stan Brakhage. I think he is thinking of the way it would have been received, given that he has been very involved in film theory and film and I suppose all the egotism and "politics" and so on for years, but he would be no theoretical enemy of non linearity I would say. Just that there is a real world out there Maps (where there re Arnoldian and Brettian deadlines), and where people need to earn money and so on...

Commissar Brett (soon to be the CEO of Titus) will soon be producing Mills and Boon (NZ branch) Books to make cash - who would blame him? - people have a right to make money in the absence of a perfect world.

But be man and put a picture of "The Mathematical Dutchman of Atenisi" up on his Blog...don't worry about peoples' "sensibilities"...Jane Austin is long gone.

7:34 pm  
Anonymous Scott said...

Hi Richard,

yes, Kik, the dress-wearing bearded mathematician, computer whizz, and 'Atenisian has stayed in the film.

Sadly, Kik was beaten up a couple of months ago by a group of young men who broke into his home. Because he runs a successful internet cafe in Nuku'alofa they had made him into a target. The news weekly Tonga Matangi recently announced that the man who led the burglary had been arrested. I hope Kik's recovering from what sounds like a pretty nasty experience. He's a bit of an identity on Tongatapu and apparently a lot of locals were saddened by what happened to him.

10:54 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sounds like a lot of unintelligible connection of scientific words, terms, and phrases, by someone trying to justify research which seems to get more and more complicated, with the end goal getting more and more unreachable, the more they try.

11:34 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

with global capitalism in crisis why make a film about a quietist like fh...what about MARX???

12:27 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

another improbable truth of our economically catastrophic times – the revival in interest in Marx and Marxist thought. Sales of Das Kapital, Marx's masterpiece of political economy, have soared ever since 2008, as have those of The Communist Manifesto and the Grundrisse (or, to give it its English title, Outlines of the Critique of Political Economy). Their sales rose as British workers bailed out the banks to keep the degraded system going and the snouts of the rich firmly in their troughs while the rest of us struggle in debt, job insecurity or worse. There's even a Chinese theatre director called He Nian who capitalised on Das Kapital's renaissance to create an all-singing, all-dancing musical.

And in perhaps the most lovely reversal of the luxuriantly bearded revolutionary theorist's fortunes, Karl Marx was recently chosen from a list of 10 contenders to appear on a new issue of MasterCard by customers of German bank Sparkasse in Chemnitz. In communist East Germany from 1953 to 1990, Chemnitz was known as Karl Marx Stadt. Clearly, more than two decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the former East Germany hasn't airbrushed its Marxist past. In 2008, Reuters reports, a survey of east Germans found 52% believed the free-market economy was "unsuitable" and 43% said they wanted socialism back. Karl Marx may be dead and buried in Highgate cemetery, but he's alive and well among credit-hungry Germans. Would Marx have appreciated the irony of his image being deployed on a card to get Germans deeper in debt? You'd think.

Later this week in London, several thousand people will attend Marxism 2012, a five-day festival organised by the Socialist Workers' Party. It's an annual event, but what strikes organiser Joseph Choonara is how, in recent years, many more of its attendees are young. "The revival of interest in Marxism, especially for young people comes because it provides tools for analysing capitalism, and especially capitalist crises such as the one we're in now," Choonara says.

12:28 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

Not good what happened to Kik. Not all is well...

10:27 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

2:14 am  
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2:15 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was hinting about a second edition of the rushed book publication rather than the film.

I have not yet seen the film, I'm looking forward to it. I'm very sorry I missed it. Based on what has been said here I expect I'll prefer the original. I like the idea of the film occurring in Tongan time.

8:39 am  
Anonymous Scott said...

Hi anon,

sorry I missed your meaning! Luckily there's a dummy copy of the book that comes back from the publisher before the real printing begins, so I'll be able to excise a few more typos!

3:27 pm  
Blogger Paul Janman said...

Here is the newly released trailer:

10:11 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In response to Richard: "Just that there is a real world out there Maps (where there re Arnoldian and Brettian deadlines), and where people need to earn money and so on..."

Exactly. In other words what Atenisi is not.

The NZ film festival has a marked tendency to convert radical film of all kinds into a conventional narrative festival goers can easily subscribe to.

The new trailer reflects this in the extreme when compared to the original trailer.

9:33 am  
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