Tongan Ark's world premiere received a standing ovation at Auckland's Sky City Theatre in August 2012 as part of the New Zealand International Film Festival. The full house was treated to a post-film show by a huge group of performers from ‘Atenisi University and the historical fofo’anga (kava circle singers) that Futa Helu helped to found. The guest of honour was Hon. Salote Lupepau’u Tuita who graciously received a ceremonial cup of kava from the people.
Tongan Ark has now been shown at other festivals around New Zealand, Tahiti, Fiji, the U.S.A, Mexico, Italy and Israel.
'Atenisi Institute is a place where Polynesian and European culture are creatively entwined. It is a Tongan school of European philosophy, music, art, democracy and science where criticism is the heart of Futa Helu's bold intellectual vision. Tongan Ark is a meditation on society, nature and the search for permanence in an otherwise chaotic and changing world. The story follows Futa's family and students as they immerse themselves in his passions and principles. He taught them Italian opera, classical music and the Tongan traditions of song, poetry and dance. Performing arts tours to the United States, Australia, New Zealand and within Tonga funded his poor but brave school through hard times. But the odds are increasingly stacked against Futa and his supporters - the school buildings are crumbling and Futa, the charismatic leader is forced to retire by illness and old age. Riots for democracy have gripped the small nation and cultural and economic globalisation is causing turmoil. Two of Futa's old collaborators, an extremely eccentric Dutch astronomer and a New York sociologist, join the struggle to revive the 'Atenisi ideal of a permanent tradition. What will become of this lifeboat of culture, ahead of its time, abandoned on a sea of change?
Director: Paul Janman
Stars: Futa Helu, 'Atolomake Helu, Sisi'uno Helu