For a long time it was only a dream, but on the 8th October Sonja, Louie and I start a journey to New Zealand and Tonga to finish a documentary based around two remarkable people, a healer and a psychiatrist.
I have been working with and filming them since my doctoral research from 1998-2000 and now finally after my most recent visit in 2011 I have the opportunity, supported by SAC and the University of Kent, to complete a feedback and co-creation process. This will help craft a documentary that aims make a real contribution to the improvement of health in Tonga and the Tonga diaspora. I hope the dedication and cultural sensitivity of the healer’s and psychiatrist’s practice will resonate with and help to inspire similarly culturally sensitive interventions elsewhere. Dr Mapa Puloka and Emeline Lolohea have never met. The documentary delves deeply into the motivations and context for both traditional and psychiatric treatment through a dialogue between them facilitated by video. Through creative visual anthropological video techniques of video elicitation and the interrogative camera we explore the role of spirits and the spiritual in sickness in Tonga. The film is born of long friendships and participation. So many people have been part of making this long journey possible, I only hope I get to meet and thank them in person in the next months.
In 2011 I promised I would be back the following year with the documentary. Life and work got in the way. I have needed the joys and challenges of being a father and partner; the sadness of being so far away from Tonga; the development of my editing and narrative skills through finishing Five Ways In and other short films on our LAB (Living Arts Base); the insights from teaching wonderful visual anthropology students; the learning that comes from being part of creating community, to finally be able to work with the challenging and diverse material I had from Tonga. I was not ready to edit then, I am now. Some people in the film have died, children have become teenagers. The seven years away, means I need to be back with friends and colleagues to know what this archival footage means to them now, to tell a story that has integrity and can move people.
We will be in Auckland from the 10th to the 25th October, in Tongatapu from the 25th October ( I hope we won’t be confused with Harry and Meghan who arrive on the same day) to the 1st November and in Vava’u till the 28th November. Our final stop is in Christchurch on the 1st December, before the final edit starts. There will be feedback screenings (by invitation-not public) and talks, screenings of archival footage in the places they were shot and much more.
Please get in touch if you are interested in attending and would like to help realise the potential of the film.