The Ark premieres: a dog's-eye view
The photo shows the hirsute Brett Cross and the less-than-hirsute author of this blog manning a bookstand in the bowels of that monstrous temple to philistinism, the Sky City Centre, last Saturday night. As fruit machines clanged and buzzed and punters howled and barked with glee or disappointment in the distance, we were busy selling On Tongan Poetry, a collection of five essays by the late Futa Helu which Atuanui Press, an offshoot of Brett's Titus Books imprint, has just published with the help of Creative New Zealand. On Tongan Poetry was supposed to arrive in late October, but we brought the release date forward after Tongan Ark, Paul Janman's celluloid portrait of Helu, was accepted for the Auckland International Film Festival. The afterword to On Tongan Ark is a revised version of a post I made to this blog near the end of 2010. We sold On Tongan Poetry alongside two books Helu published near the end of his life - a study of the pre-Socratic philosopher and father of dialectics Heraclitus and a set of short essays in Tongan about the poetry of Salote Tupou III.
righteous mischievousness which motivated Bill Gosden, the boss of Auckland's International Film Festival, to arrange for Tongan Ark to screen in the Sky City Theatre last Saturday night. Helu was an inveterate critic of the hyper-commercialism and mindless consumerism which are part and parcel of late capitalism, and 'Atenisi, the university he established in a swamp on the edge of Nuku'alofa, has always preferred to teach its students philosophy and poetry rather than business studies. Perhaps, then, Gosden intended the denunciations of 'banal corporate culture' and 'corrupt financial systems' which pepper Tongan Ark to seep through the beige walls of the Sky City Theatre into the cavernous casino nearby, and to inspire the punters there to spend some of their money on books of philosophy and poetry rather than on pokies?
On the other hand, Gosden might simply have been looking for a movie theatre large enough to cope with the appeal of Janman's film. Tongan Ark was watched by a capacity audience of seven hundred; when dancers from the 'Atenisi Foundation for the Performing Arts stormed onstage at the end of the movie, and the crowd rose, clapping, roaring, and stamping its feet, I thought I was at a rock concert rather than a movie.
TV One, as well as profiles on Radio New Zealand and in the Sunday Star-Times.
But the selling of Tongan Ark hasn't only been achieved by exposure in the big media. Enthusiasm for the film has been building amongst Auckland's huge Tongan community for weeks, with volunteers going door to door selling tickets in areas like Otahuhu and Mangere. Pasifika websites and social media have spread the word, and demands to see the movie have flowed in from Sydney, Los Angeles, Salt Lake City, and other colonies of the Tongan diaspora.
After the screening of Tongan Ark and the dance by the 'Atenisians, movie-goers reconvened in the Wintergarden lounge of the Civic Theatre. The Civic was built in the late '20s, at a time when the newly-discovered death-mask of Tutankhamun was exciting architects and interior designers around the world, and the lapis lazuli sky and golden walls of the Wintergarden are supposed to evoke the splendours and mysteries of a romantically imagined Orient.
When an 'Atenisi concert party armed with guitars, log drums, and a huge bowl of kava occupied one end of the Wintergarden, though, the room's deep blue desert sky suddenly became the deep blue sky of a tranquil evening in the tropical Pacific. As the guitars played and the voices rose, I forgot about the cold rain blowing outside down the concrete and glass canyon of Queen Street. I could feel a soft humid breeze on my face, and hear the waters of the Fanga'uta Lagoon, the inland sea of Tongatapu, lapping in the distance. When I left the Civic, at the end of the evening, the wind seemed a little milder, and the glass facades of Queen Street a little less oppressive. Tongan Ark and 'Atenisi had brought something important to Auckland.
Wellingtonians should get their tickets, and get ready to party.
Footnote: I've pinched three of the photos in this post from the splendidly monikered Karen Abplanalp, who works for the Pacific Media Centre.
[Posted by Maps/Scott]