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Tongan Ark in FIFO Pacific Documentary Film Festival

PRESS RELEASE: Monday 4th February 2013

NZ Film, Tongan Ark, is selected to screen ‘In Competition’ at FIFO Pacific International Documentary Film Festival, 11th – 17th February 2013.
Tongan Ark - watch trailer here!

Ancient philosophy, opera and Tongan culture come together in this intimate portrait of a teacher, his school and his people as they navigate a sea of repression and doubt in a small but troubled Pacific island kingdom. Tongan Ark is a meditation on society, nature and the search for permanence aboard a lifeboat of culture, ahead of its time, on a sea of change.

Tongan Ark is a bold new feature documentary film, the first film of its kind to come out of Tonga, which premiered to critical acclaim at the 2012 New Zealand International Film Festival.

Tongan Ark inducts us into the surprising world of revolutionary thinker and educator Futa Helu and his ‘Atenisi Institute, an unconventional Tongan institution that proudly stands apart from church and state. Built on the swampy outskirts of Nuku’alofa, ‘Atenisi is probably the world’s smallest and poorest university - an island within an island where freedom of thought and artistic expression are paramount. After 40 years the school buildings are crumbling and Futa, the charismatic leader and activist for Tongan democracy, is forced to retire…

In Director Paul Janman’s words,“The existence of the school itself is a miracle, in the face of opposition in Tonga, crippling financial struggle and rapid social change that threatens to eliminate critical forms of education. Futa’s story is not fully known even in Tonga but it has a heroic global resonance”.

Tongan Ark is Paul Janman’s feature debut and was conceived from personal experience of the teachings of Futa Helu during two years spent at his iconoclastic institute. The project would take another seven years, as Paul returned to Tonga regularly throughout the production. The final work came out of extended journeys in Tonga at pivotal moments in the tiny nation’s history including the 2006 riots, the coronation of King George V and the transition to democracy in 2008.

Janman states, “it was always important to avoid the common 'once over lightly' kind of documentary making; and through collaboration and participation, to take the culture and the ideas at the core of the film more seriously. What has emerged is something more subtle, poetic and indirect but revitalised and interventionist”.

Tongan Ark is a lyrical documentary that came out of a prolonged relationship with ‘Atenisi people. The film seeks a kind of sensuous immersion in metaphysical and aesthetic ideas, the ironies of the modern Pacific and of course the charismatic person of Futa Helu, his family and his eccentric band of dissenters.

Independently produced, written and directed by Auckland based husband and wife team, Paul and Echo Janman, Tongan Ark was self-funded with assistance from Creative New Zealand and the New Zealand Film Commission.

Tongan Ark will screen in FIFO Pacific International Documentary Film Festival | 11 - 17th February 2013
FIFO website:

Click for big version.

For more information please visit these links:
Tongan Ark Official Website
Tongan Ark Facebook Page


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