This video research documentary and visual intervention is based on long term collaboration since 1998 with the Vava’uan spirit healer Emeline Lolohea and the Tongan Psychiatrist, Dr Mapa Puloka. Informed by Tongan vernacular use of funeral videos for creating connections with relatives and friends located in New Zealand, Australia and New Zealand, this documentary attempts a video conversation between positions on the influence of spirits in the sickness of the living that are popularly regarded as contradictory.  Grounded in extensive publications on mental health and Tongan medicine (Poltorak 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016) the documentary references other visual, fictional and online visual representations of Tongan health.

We explore Tonga’s health challenges from the perspective of healers, doctors, patients and caregivers, and the value they give to Tongan medicine. The extraordinary dedication and commitment to the value of giving and being available to heal, and involvement in the lives of their patients is common to both the healer and psychiatrist. The documentary draws on key aspects in visual anthropology to craft a visual intervention in terms of the inquisitive camera and presence of filmmaker, video elicitation, use of archival footage, the use of video messaging for diagnosis, the reception of mainstream movies and participative editing. Inspired in part by Jean Rouch aspiration of a ‘shared anthropology’ the process of production of this documentary is attentive to multiple and diverse audiences:  first to the participants in the film, secondly to the extended Tongan community and those engaged in understanding and representing it, thirdly to those working within a global health paradigm and finally to an audience interested in mental health but with little knowledge of Tonga. The ethnographic, interventionist and documentary credibility of this documentary rests on the ability to move these multiple audiences to greater appreciation and action.

The continuity of Emeline Lolohea’s and Mapa Puloka’s unique healing practices is in question. This documentary will serve as a vehicle for conversations and policy actions on the opportunities of greater collaboration between traditional and biomedical medicine, and the imagining of new healing futures for Tonga as well as new possibilities in other contexts where the development of a public psychiatry attuned to traditional healing will bring positive health outcomes. The message of the film is of great importance to sensitise a growing expansion of mental health services around the world.


Process and Footage:

The feedback version of the film is based on footage filmed in 2011 with brief sections  recorded in 1998 and 2005. The engagement and use of archival footage is key to exploring the continuity of the healer and psychiatrist’s practices. In October and November 2018 the feedback version of the film was screened in New Zealand and Tonga, and more footage recorded in response to feedback and to present the contemporary situation of the key protagonists.


Pre Feedback Trailer


The thesis on which this documentary draws can be read here.