Reel Motion is a series of blog posts detailing the films in the 2019-20 Northrop Film Series.
The next film in the series, The Orator (O Le Tulafale), on Wed, Oct 30 pairs with Black Grace’s performance at Northrop on Thu, Nov 7. Recommended by the company to showcase Samoan culture, this film is glimpse into some of deeper cultural themes that Neil Ieremia, founder and artistic director of Black Grace, has drawn from in his choreography.
The Orator is an exquisite, nuanced exploration of Fa’a Samoa, the tradition and values of Samoan culture. Written and directed by Samoan-born film-maker Tusi Tamasese, this film is a film of firsts. Produced in 2011, it was the first Samoan feature film. It was shot entirely in and around the villages on Upolu, in the Samoan language with a story about Samoan characters portrayed by Samoan people. It was also New Zealand’s first entry into the Foreign Language category for the 84th Academy Awards.
The cinematography of Leon Narbey is beyond breathtaking, every location becomes a vibrant character in the film, just as present as any of the humans. But even the beauty of Samoa takes a back seat to the performance of the film’s lead actor, Fa’Afiaula Sagote who portrays Saili, the taro farmer at the center of the story. Sagote was not a professional actor when Tamasese approached him for the role. Sagote was, like his character Saili, working as a taro farmer and carpenter. Sagote’s soulful eyes communicate more than any bit of dialogue ever could. The camera dwells on Sagote’s face in thoughtful, introspective moments that form the backbone of the film.
Weaving together the strands of the film’s plot points, as the characters weave the omni-present ie tōga mats, The Orator is a heart-wrenching drama that renders love, courage, adversity, and finding a voice into a poignant ritual of redemption.
Shayna Houp is Northrop’s Artist Services Manager and curates the Film Series each season.