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Tongan heritage on the big screen at famed Sundance Film Festival

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By 1news.co.nz and is republished with permission

A short film exploring a young woman’s journey to reconnect with her Tongan heritage is premiering today at Sundance Film Festival in the United States.

Sundance is one of the most prolific film festivals in the world, and an unparallel platform for new feature-length and short films.

Lea Tupu’anga / Mother Tongue tells the story of a young speech language therapist of Tongan heritage, who speaks only English, and her relationship with a client, who only speaks Tongan.

Luciane Buchanan and Vea Mafile'o outside the premiere screening for their short film  Lea Tupu’ana / Mother Tongue at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah
Luciane Buchanan and Vea Mafile’o outside the premiere screening for their short film Lea Tupu’ana / Mother Tongue at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah (Source: 1News)

The film was written by Luciane Buchanan, an accomplished Kiwi actor already known in the hit Netflix show The Night Agent.

From their hotel in Park City, Utah, where Sundance is held, she told 1News it was a story she personally connected with.

“I was living in Los Angeles as an actor, not booking work, thinking ‘if there was a character I could play, what would it be?’,” she said.

“I looked at a lot of experiences from my own life, and also speaking to immigrants all around the world and we had this common thread of not speaking the language of our cultures.”

Getting selected into Sundance is no easy feat — this year there were more than 17,000 applications. The event this year has also attracted industry heavyweights including director Christopher Nolan.

Director, Vea Mafile’o, helped bring the story to life on the screen. She said after an extensive post-production process the film was entered to a range of festivals.

“And we struck it lucky with Sundance,” she said.

“Sundance, for me, was always the dream.”

A scene from the short film Lea Tupu’ana / Mother Tongue which has premiered at the Sundance Film Festival
A scene from the short film Lea Tupu’ana / Mother Tongue which has premiered at the Sundance Film Festival (Source: Supplied)

For the team, however, the goal of the film was simple.

“I just want people to kind of forgive themselves for not being enough in whatever culture and not having acceptance. I hope that is the takeaway of the film.

“I hope that is seen universally, not just in our Tongan community,” said Buchanan.

Also, she said her message to young Pacifica filmmakers was simple: “Anyone can do it”.