USP student stars in internationally acclaimed movie - The Land Has Eyes
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USP Science student Sapeta Taito in one of the publicity stills from the internationally acclaimed film The Land Has Eyes, which hits the big screen in Suva, Fiji, this week.
For Sapeta Taito, fame is not something which she regards as much of a big deal. Instead, she sees it is an opportunity to meet more people and tell them about her home island of Rotuma, in the Fiji group.
The humble, yet bubbly first year Bachelor of Science student at the University of the South Pacific loves to share experiences of Rotuma, and its people to all who are willing to listen. Sapeta is the leading actress and star of the movie The Land Has Eyes which has been directed by another USP graduate Vilisoni Hereniko. The movie starts screening at Village 6 Cinemas in Suva, Fiji, from Thursday 8 September.
Vilisoni Hereniko graduated with a Bachelor of Arts Degree and a Graduate Certificate in Education from USP in 1977. He was then awarded a Commonwealth scholarship to study drama-in-education at the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne in England, where he completed a Masters degree in Education. It was while USP that he started writing plays; his work immediately became widely produced and popular throughout the Pacific, notably Don't Cry Mama, A Child For Iva, Sera's Choice and The Monster. It was also during this time that Hereniko experimented with film, making a documentary, The Rotuman Clown. In 1991, Hereniko was awarded a PhD by USP. The same year, he joined the faculty at the Center of Pacific Island Studies at the University of Hawai’i where he is currently a full professor, teaching literature, theater and film.
The Land Has Eyes was produced four years ago when Sapeta was still at high school in Rotuma. Like other girls her age she went along to audition for the role of Viki and was absolutely delighted when she was picked.
“I was so happy – it was hard to get over that. I was also very excited,’’ she said.
“Doing the movie was a great experience as I got to meet many people and learnt so many new things. I had no idea how much time and effort it took to make a movie. It was such an amazing experience.
“Everyone was encouraging right from the beginning and when I was finally picked for the role, I received all the support and encouragement I could ever ask for.’’
For Sapeta, working with Vilisoni Hereniko was among the greatest experiences she would ever have.
“He is such a wonderful teacher. He spent a lot of time on detail and worked very hard, and expected the same from everyone to perfect each shot.’’
The Land Has Eyes is the story of Viki who is shamed by her village for being poor and the daughter of a convicted thief. Viki is inspired and haunted by the Warrior Woman, from her island's mythology. The lush tropical beauty of Rotuma, Fiji contrasts with the stifling conformity of island culture as Viki fights for justice and her freedom.
Viki, a beautiful and sensitive young South Pacific girl, listens intently to her father, Hapati, a storyteller. His tale is about seven brothers and their sister on a voyaging canoe. The eldest brother commits an unforgivable act; later on the brothers abandon their sister on a remote island called Rotuma. Struggling to survive, the sister discovers inner strength and survives a difficult birth. Through hard work and determination, she becomes known to later generations of Rotumans as their first inhabitant and their Warrior Woman.
The role of Warrior Woman is played by Rena Owen who has appeared in films such as What Becomes Of The Broken Hearted?, I'll Make You Happy and When Love Comes Along. Her role of Rix in Dance To My Song earned her multiple Australian film award nominations for Best Supporting Actress, while her role of Beth Heke in Once Were Warriors has gathered numerous international film festival awards for Best Actress in Portugal, France, Canada and the U.S. In 1997 Owen also played the lead actress in Vilisoni Hereniko’s critically acclaimed play Fine Dancing.
Since its completion, the movie has been shown at various film festivals around the world including Sundance Film Festival, Film Festival Rotterdam, Hawai'i International Spring Film Festival, the Moscow International Film Festival, The Commonwealth Film Festival, Manchester, England.
Now four years later, the movie has come to Fiji.
This is also a very emotional homecoming for Vilisoni Hereniko.
“Although the film has been screened at film festivals around the world in the past two years, screening it in Fiji is taking it home to where it truly belongs,’’ said Hereniko.
“The film was made for the people of Fiji, particularly Rotumans, and I hope that it will inspire those of us from the Pacific to tell our own stories, in our language, using the talents of our people as much as possible.
“It is important for us to represent ourselves in film (or other kinds of media) and not depend on Hollywood to tell us who or what we are. When we are the producers of our own images, and not just consumers or other people’s images of us, we’ll know that we have arrived. My lecturers at USP, when I was a student from 1973-1977, taught me this.’’
As for how Sapeta is gearing up for this premiere: “I’m okay. I suppose I am a little excited. Many of my friends and students have no idea that I acted in a movie so I suppose it will be somewhat of a surprise for them.
“But I am happy that the movie has finally coming home.’’