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Sundance Pre-Production: THE LAND HAS EYES Writer/Director Vilsoni Hereniko

Vilsoni Hereniko's "The Land Has Eyes"
by Chris Parry

THE 'LAND HAS EYES' PITCH: The Land Has Eyes is an 87-minute narrative drama about Viki, (introducing Sapeta Taito) a young South Pacific islander who redeems her family’s name by exposing the secrets of her island’s most powerful and important people. Shamed by her village for being poor and the daughter of a wrongly convicted thief, Viki is inspired and haunted by the ‘Warrior Woman’ (Rena Owen, ‘Once Were Warriors’) from her island’s mythology. The lush tropical beauty of Rotuma, Fiji contrasts with the stifling conformity of the island’s village culture as Viki fights for justice and her freedom.

“A small film with a big resonance.”

Q. Will this be your first time at Sundance? If not, what else have you been to Park City with?
This is my first time.

Q. When you were 14 years old, if someone asked you what you wanted to be when you grew up, what would your answer have been?
A teacher.

Q. How did you get started in filmmaking?
I have been a playwright for many years. I wanted to express my stories visually as well as stretch myself artistically. I also wanted to tell stories through this powerful medium to reach masses of people. So I started writing screenplays; then I made a documentary and a short narrative film. Next came the feature film, now showing in Sundance, "The Land Has Eyes."

Q. How have things changed for you since your film was accepted into the festival?
1) I'm seriously thinking about becoming a full-time filmmaker instead of a full time professor.
2) I walk taller than before.
3) And I've just bought my first cellphone so I can use it at Sundance!

Q. When you were shooting the film, did you have Sundance in mind?
Not at all. I just wanted to make a film for the Rotuman people so they can laugh and cry seeing themselves on screen. Because the film is in Rotuman and uses unknown actors (by and large). I never thought of being in Sundance. This is a complete surprise - a nice one!

Q. How did you get your film started? How did you go from script to finished product?
I started by taking a sabbatical from the University of Hawaii in 1999 and relocating for the year in Los Angeles. In LA, I took courses on scriptwriting, and getting the story right. I knew that without a compelling story to tell, it wouldn't be worth making the film.
The Hubert Bals fund (Rotterdam Film Festival) gave me seed money to write the script. That was good for the ego. So I was then ready to write a script that I felt passionate about and wanted to make. After the script was written, my wife/producer came on board and got the crew together. I went to Rotuma and cast the film. Then the crew came.
We made the movie using our own money primarily. Only after we had had the film in the can did we get a major funder. This meant we had artistic freedom with the story and direction.
The post-production was done in New Zealand because they have great facilities there and that's where our Executive Producer and Post-Production Supervisor live.
All along, we had great support from friends and peers, and the land kept providing us with what we needed. The land has eyes... And knew our film had to be made or there would be no peace...

Q. What's the one glaring lesson you learned while making this film?
Don't listen to any lazy crew member on the set who continually says, "you don't need that shot!"

Q. When you were in pre-production, did you find yourself watching other great movies in preparation?
Yes. I love movies from Iran, China, India, Phillipines... Filmmakers like Moshen Mahmalbaf, Zang Yimou, Buddadeb Dasgupta, Marilou Diaz-Abaya... Their films really inspire me.

Q. If a studio said 'we love this, we love you, you can remake anything in our back catalogue for $40m' - what film, if any, would you remake?
The Graduate.

Q. Two parter - which actor would you cut off an arm to work with, and which relatively unknown actor on your own film do you want the world to start recognizing sooner rather than later?
My favorite actor is Daniel Day Lewis.
Sapeta taito, the lead in "The Land Has Eyes" is really gifted. She can be a star if she wanted to.

Q. The festival circuit: what could be improved, and what couldn't be? How can it be improved?
They could screen the land has eyes in bigger theatres so we can get tickets to see our own film and give some to our friends!

Q. What couldn't be improved?
Well, I believe that everything can always be better; there's always room for improvement.

Q. Have you 'made it' yet? If not, at what point will you be able to say 'Yes'?
What do you mean by "made it"? I can say "yes" now.

Q. A film is made by many people, as well as the director, but often films will open with a credit that says "a film by..." - Did you use that credit in your film? If so, defend yourself! If not, what do you think of those who do?
I don't think it's fair to say that one individual made the film. I was too ashamed to use that credit because I knew that without everyone else's input, I couldn't have made the film.
Instead, the film opens with a credit that says "A film for Rotuma", which is closer to the truth. I made The Land Has Eyes as a gift for the Rotuman People; it's my way of giving back to the island that has made me into the person I am today.

Don't you have any more questions? I'm just getting warm...

[Ed: Oh, there’ll be more questions alright, Vilsoni – it’s a long festival and we’re just getting warmed up ourselves.]

Honolulu, Hawaii-based Te Maka Productions proudly announces the world premiere of their first feature film THE LAND HAS EYES at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, USA. The film’s director is Vilsoni Hereniko, a native of Rotuma, Fiji, marking the first feature-drama made by an indigenous filmmaker from the South Pacific island nation. The film will be highlighted in the Native Forum section at the festival January 15-25, 2004, as well as the Rotterdam International Film Festival from January 21 through February 1.

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originally posted: 01/10/04 08:41:28
last updated: 02/19/04 12:19:06
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