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The following reviews appeared on the website on 29 March 2005

I found myself engulfed in this movie . . . culturally, the characters and the story all worked together to get my attention and keep it for the full length of this important masterpiece. Exemplary.

Paul Klink

Land Has Eyes, The
March 28, 2005
(NR) 87 minutes - Drama

Themes of culture, justice and personal freedom from deep in the South Pacific.
Beyond its richly detailed portrait of Rotuma, its people and their culture, this beautifully told story from the remote Fijian island is positively uplifting. It is a story of a girl who must somehow reconcile her devotion to the traditional ways of her people with her personal ambition of acquiring a modern education. It is a story of redemption as she fights to restore her family’s name after her father is wrongly accused and fined as a thief. And it is a story of drawing strength from the island’s mythical “warrior woman,” the embodiment of the proverb that states: “The land has teeth and knows the truth.”

Sapeta Taito, a Rotuman high school student at the time of production, plays Viki with an amazing believability. She has no training as a actor; as a matter of fact, she had never been in a movie theater and didn’t know the word “audition” when a teacher encouraged her to try out for the part. But the role closely matches her own life. So, using her natural gifts and working intuitively with Writer/Director Vilsoni Hereniko’s guidance, she engages the audience with personality, determination and a certain amount of grit.

The character is actually autobiographical. Hereniko, a University of Hawaii professor and playwright, is a Rotuman. “The Land Has Eyes” is based on his own experience as a child. His poor father was unjustly charged with stealing a wealthy neighbor’s coconuts, then convicted by an British colonial judge who believed a translator’s dishonest and deliberate misinterpretation of testimony. In life and in the film, the beloved father dies before the shame that has beset his family is lifted by the truth. Hereniko ultimately decided to cast a girl in the part instead of a boy in order to give him more artistic freedom and a bit of needed distance from the story.

In the film, Viki wants desperately to win a scholarship to the University of the South Pacific on Fiji. Sapeta Taito missed some five months of school during production, but returned to the classroom, graduated first in her class, and is now a scholarship student at the school.

Hereniko had some heavyweight help in getting this film from dream to reality. His wife, Jeannette Paulson Hereniko served as his producer; she was the founding director of the Hawaii International Film Festival. Cinematographer Paul Atkins (his remarkable footage of the Cape Horn storm for “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World,” helped Director of Photography Russell Boyd win an Academy Award for cinematography) depicts the tropical beauty of Rotuma with saturated colors; he adds to the sense of reality with a sensitively fluid lens. Atkins and his Emmy Award-winning sound-recordist wife, Grace Niska Atkins are known throughout the world for their films on cultures and wildlife. Finally, the Herenikos were able to enlist the aid of the acclaimed New Zealand actress Rena Owen (upcoming, “Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith" and “The Crow: Wicked Prayer”; “Artificial Intelligence: AI,” “Once Were Warriors”) to play the “Warrior Woman.” One of only two professional actors in the film, she adds an extraordinary presence with her performance and gives the film a commercial credibility that will help in finding North American distribution. Owen and Hereniko worked together in 1997 when she starred in his play, “Fine Dancing.”

In the end, the films that satisfy us most have at their heart a wonderful story, beautifully told. Hereniko’s tale is at once captivating, heart-wrenching and uplifting without a single element of story, performance or production that distracts from its honesty or believability. You will fall in love with Sapeta Taito’s Viki, and you will find yourself rooting for this film’s wide distribution, in hopes that Vilsoni Hereniko will have more opportunities to tell the untold stories of the South Pacific.

Brad Bate [ Brad Bate is a DGA Director with over 40 years of experience in the communications arts. His current professional work is primarily in commercials. Brad is a self-confessed "motion picture addict."]

Truth, Justice, and the Rotuman Way; This is a winner!
This feature premiered at Sundance and has been traveling film festivals around the world, garnering “Best Film” and Best Filmmaker” prizes along the way.

It tells the story of a young girl growing up in a poor but loving family on a remote island in the South Pacific. And while the narrative seems on the surface to be a fairly straightforward coming-of-age film, as you peel back the layers you discover a complicated tale of hopes, dreams and just plain survival within a culture ruled by colonial occupation and preyed upon by political corruption. This is not a simple movie and cannot be summed up in a few well-chosen words.

The motion picture is worthwhile on so many levels:

First of all, award-winning National Geographic cinematographer Paul Atkins has captured the vivid beauty of this hidden world that few of us will ever get the chance to see. The footage of the mythical Warrior Woman of Rotuma has a mysterious soft-focus quality, making the ancient tale seem enigmatic and slightly out-of-reach. It is a lovely contrast with the modern scenes that are crisp with saturated color and beauty. Even without the story, Atkins photography works as a travelogue capturing your visual senses.

Then, of course, there is the story: It involves family values, and the fact that different families have very different sets of values. Our young protagonist, Viki, is an intellectual achiever, living in a society that demands physical labor in order to survive. Education requires great sacrifices, not only because it is costly but also because further schooling can be achieved only by leaving home and sailing to Fiji. In a close-knit society such as that on Rotuma, separation from one’s family can be nearly as much of an emotional hardship as the lack of extra hands for working is an economic hardship. Despite all this, Viki’s father, Hapati, encourages her scholastic abilities because he understands the value of education.

Next door lives a family who values money above all else, even if it requires bribing public officials, falsely accusing a neighbor, or driving a wedge between his son and the son’s best friend. When Hapati dies, Viki must face her destiny, taking it upon herself to uncover the corruption and single-handedly restore her father’s good name.

The final reason to see this picture is the opportunity to learn about the day-to-day culture and traditions of this remote place located within the Fiji Islands chain. We are privileged to see the spiritual rhythm of Rotuman life through the eyes of writer/director Vilsoni Hereniko, who grew up in Rotuma before moving away to further his education. After studying in England, he was awarded a Ph.D. by the University of the South Pacific and is currently a professor at the University of Hawai´i.

Hereniko is an accomplished author and playwright whose works have been produced internationally. “The Land Has Eyes” is Dr. Hereniko’s feature debut. His actors are mostly Rotumans, many of whom have never seen a move, let alone appeared in one. The exceptions to this are James Davenport, who plays the court magistrate and critically acclaimed New Zealand actress Rena Owen, best known to American audiences for her portrayal of Beth in “Once Were Warriors.”

It is important to note that major funding for “The Land Has Eyes” came from the Pacific Islanders in Communications, a national nonprofit group primarily funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Without such generous benefactors, indigenous people would have little or no opportunity to tell their stories and we would all be the poorer.

When asked, in an interview, to express his philosophy in creating this story, Hereniko responded, “May justice prevail, not just in film, but also in real life.” I couldn’t agree more, and if there is any justice in the world, this picture will be quickly picked up for general release.

Kay Lorraine [Kay Lorraine is a film producer with over 20 years of experience. In 1994 she was honored with the Jay Eisenstat Award for production, and remains the only woman to ever receive this national award, which is voted upon by producers from around the country. She has been featured in national publications such as "Screen" magazine, "Film & Video" magazine and "Backstage."]

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