Born from frustration and not understanding their dad Saia Mafile’o, For My Father’s Kingdom became a journey for Vea Mafile’o and her siblings to make sense of their lives and their family’s history and journey to the present.
Together with husband Jeremiah Tauamiti, Vea directed the documentary which premiered at the Berlin international Film Festival earlier this year, and in Aotearoa on July 30 at New Zealand’s International Film Festival.
A loving portrait of a father told from the perspective of his four kids, it explores the generational divide which exists in many Pacific families living in New Zealand between island-born parents and their Kiwi-raised children.
Vea, who is of Tongan, English and Scottish descent, says her parents met at a primary school in Nukunuku, where they were both teaching.
Her mother had started her second Volunteer Service Abroad (VSA) placement in Tonga when she met Saia, and the rest is history, she adds.
Her parents relocated to the Waikato, where her father turned his hand to dairy farming, becoming the first Tongan dairy farmer in the region to do so.
“I was born in Hamilton and went to school there … we also lived over in Tonga for periods of time as well, as my parents taught in ‘Eua and at Toloa,” Vea explains.
Growing up, Vea and her siblings were subject to some racism, she adds, but they would fight back to any remarks directed their way.
“We were always told to be proud of being Tongan… I always knew I was Tongan.”
Saia was the leader of the Hamilton Tongan Society, and all the Mafile’o children learnt how to do Tongan dance as youngsters, and attended the Tongan service at church.
“We had the best of both worlds — we were blessed,” Vea says.
The arts have always been a part of Vea’s life and she excelled at them during her time at Hillcrest High School, in Hamilton.
After finishing secondary school, Vea worked as a scuba diver in Vava`u, before going onto complete a Bachelor of Visual Arts Degree from the University of Auckland, and a Graduate Diploma in Fine Arts majoring in Moving Image Installation.
Vea now lives in South Auckland with her husband and three children, and four years ago, the couple set up a production company Malosi Pictures.
Over the past few years, they have produced material exploring identity, Tongan politics and environmental issues.
Her most recent film, For My Father’s Kingdom, looks at Vea and her siblings’ relationship growing up with their father, who has always been a man of deep conviction and is now a pensioner, without a lot of money but still works tirelessly for the church.
The opportunity to make the documentary arose through a script to screen workshop Vea attended in South Auckland, she says.
“We needed to pitch a film idea and I had been talking about my idea with a sound guy and he mentioned about making a film about it one day.
“It was the only idea I had so I stayed up all night working on a pitch and ended up being winning.
“From there it was a rolling stone and before I knew it, I was on a journey it was just happening and I was making it.”
The documentary took nearly three years to make including shooting it, and post–production, and it was a challenging time trying to juggle work, children and life, Vea says.
“I had a baby, he came with me to the editing room and Jerry and I would take the kids with us filming, which was challenging.
“We would be shooting or doing sound and we still needed someone to watch the children …it was hard to give the film my full attention with everything going on.
“My family was really amazing and helped so much watching the children and financially, especially my mum.”
While filming the documentary, Vea says her family underwent a journey of realisation which was an emotional process to go through.
“In the editing room, it was so hard but so rewarding seeing the magic my editor produced and if I watched it a scene and cried, I knew it was right.”
Seeing the final cut also made Vea cry - a lot, she says.
“Actually I was quite traumatised – and was thinking ‘what have I done to my family? I’ve put it all out there’.
“It took me awhile to get past that - I know we all agreed I was making this, but it's still a big thing for my family and I feel really blessed they have embraced this process and film.
“They realise it is bigger than us, it resonates with people, and it is helping and healing a lot of people but also allowing a space for families to have open korero.”