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"The Land Has Eyes" holds intriguing lesson
By Julia Wieting
Spread out a map of the Pacific and see if you can find the island of Rotuma. Or, make it easy on yourself and go to see "The Land Has Eyes," a special feature of the University of Hawai'i/Bank of Hawai'i Cinema Series. It plays Friday, April 8 and Saturday, April 9 at 7 p.m., and Sunday, April 10 at 3 p.m. All showings are in Spalding Auditorium. Admission is $5, $3 for students. Director/writer Vilsoni Hereniko will be at all three showings to answer questions.
Set on the tiny island of Rotuma, "The Land Has Eyes" is a poignant story of a girl, Viki, who has one foot in the world of myth and tradition and the other in a modern world with little understanding of the Rotuman way of life. Smart and determined, Viki can see the opportunities that a scholarship to Fiji affords. At the same time she struggles to understand the heritage of her family and village.
In the midst of this cultural tug-of?]war, she must both navigate her own identity and defend the honor of her father, Hapati, who is vilified by other islanders in an attempt to push him off of his land.
Using a completely indigenous cast and shooting on location, director Hereniko has constructed a believable story of an island in transition between past and present. As Viki tries to reconcile the problems around her, she encounters the traditional figure of a warrior woman in her dreams. By using this cultural symbol, Hereniko creates a strength in Viki that draws from an ancient source to fill modern need.
The juxtaposition between these two figures is nuanced and explained in enough detail that the link between Viki and the warrior woman is apparent but still enigmatic, as many experiences are.
The island of Rotuma may be small, but the effort and love that went into this film must have been huge. One of the triumphs of the film is that it is telling an indigenous story from an indigenous point of view, something that the international film community still lacks to a great extent. The cast is composed almost entirely of native Rotumans, many of whom had never acted before, and all of whom rise to the challenge admirably, especially Sapeta Taito as Viki.
While the individual elements of the story are captivating, the climax is forced. As Viki hopes for the scholarship that will take her to Fiji, she meets the forces that have conspired to bring sorrow upon her family in a surreal and rushed confrontation. The threads of the conflict untangle themselves a little too neatly, and the plot loses some of its momentum.
Yet, whether or not the climax works out is irrelevant in the wider context of the film. As a picture of life on Rotuma, "The Land Has Eyes" cannot help but be intriguing. It presents a wealth of comparisons with life in Hawai'i and provides a way to promote cross Pacific communication in culture and the arts.
As a member of an already vibrant cultural melting pot here in Hawai'i, how could we not enjoy the chance to add a little more to our picture of the world.
Ka Leo O Hawai'i, Friday, April 8, 2005 (page 7)