- Samoan Wedding, and: No. 2
The Hawai'i International Film Festival—regarded as the premiere film event in the Pacific—screened two New Zealand feature films during the October 2006 film season in Hawai'i—Samoan Wedding and No. [End Page 653] 2. Significantly, each film features the writing, directorial (in the case of No. 2), and acting talents of Pacific Islanders, thus illuminating a critical change that has been taking place in the Pacific film industry since the 1970s. Over the last three and a half decades, Pacific Islanders have been taking control of the camera and re-presenting their stories, experiences, and images through a unique indigenous lens.
The romantic comedy Samoan Wedding (released as Sione's Wedding in New Zealand) is replete with cultural markers that work well to elucidate the presence of Pacific Islanders on the New Zealand landscape. The film's costume and production designers create a visual feast of tapa and floral prints, hibiscus motifs, and the ubiquitous Samoan lavalava, all of which provide the film with an unmistakable Pacific flavor, albeit self-consciously at times. In one scene a lush taro patch and a traditional umu (earth oven) feature in a suburban backyard—here, Samoan cultural sensibilities overlap with urban realities in a dynamic way.
The film's soundtrack—produced by Pacific Islander–owned record label Dawn Raid Entertainment and featuring the music of Polynesian artists such as Nesian Mystik and Fat Freddy's Drop—also provides a dynamic blend of contemporary sounds that reflect New Zealand's vibrant Pacific hip-hop scene. Stylistically, the film benefits from the directorial skills of Chris Graham (a Päkehä), who is well known in New Zealand for his award-winning music videos. Graham creates a riveting portrait of Samoan life within the folds of a multicultural, metropolitan cityscape. Panoramic scenes of the city of Auckland, New Zealand, bathed in the pale orange glow of morning light are juxtaposed with the sultry interiors of hip, urban nightclubs, which are populated by fashion-conscious, first- and second-generation Polynesians "getting down" to contemporary beats—this is Island life with a twist.
Samoan Wedding follows the adolescent antics of four thirty-something Samoan friends who live in Auckland's sprawling metropolis. Michael (Robbie Magasiva) is a muscle-bound bicycle courier who has a penchant for "rich, sexually free white girls"; Albert (Oscar Kightley, who also cowrote the screenplay) is a painfully shy office clerk whose only close female relationship has been with his mother; Stanley (Iaheto Ah Hi) is a hopeless romantic searching for the perfect woman through a telephone dating service; and Sefa (Shimpal Lelisi) is a boozing party animal whose puerile behavior begins to wear thin on his live-in girlfriend, Leilani (Teuila Blakely).
Existing in a hazy world of nightclubs, alcohol, and perpetual hangovers, the four friends eventually hit the hard wall of reality when—after the latest in a long line of wedding disasters, of which they have been the primary instigators—they find themselves censured by their Samoan community and banned from attending the upcoming wedding of Michael's younger brother, Sione (Pua Magasiva). Desperate to participate in the nuptial celebrations, the four men begrudgingly accept the ultimatum given them by the local Samoan minister (Nathaniel Lees), who decrees that in order for them to attend the wedding, they must each find a respectable [End Page 654] girlfriend to accompany them. However, locating the right woman proves to be more difficult than expected.
What viewers will find most striking about Samoan Wedding is that it makes a clean break from the well-worn themes of cultural displacement and social alienation that have characterized previous Pacific Island-oriented films such as Sons for the Return Home (1979), O Tamaiti (1996), and A Day in the Life (1995). While...