"The land has eyes, the land has teeth and knows the truth." This ancient Rotuman proverb inspired Vilsoni Hereniko.
The Land Has Eyes, produced by Jeannette Paulson Hereniko, tells the story of a young South Pacific island girl, Viki, played by first-time actress, 17-year-old Sapeta Taito. She must fight for justice after being shamed by her village for being poor and the daughter of a convicted thief. Her father reminds her that despite injustice, the land is vigilant and will eventually avenge any wrongdoing. The Rotuman mythological character "Warrior Woman," played by Maori actress Rena Owen of Once Were Warriors, both haunts and inspires Viki to endure through her trials.
More About the Film
"Growing up on Rotuma, Fiji, I was filled with stories about the island, Greek mythology, and the Bible, which nourished me with inspiration and hope," shares writer/director Vilsoni Hereniko, who received a Ph.D. in literature and language from the University of the South Pacific and teaches Pacific Island literature, theater, and film at the Center for Pacific Islands Studies at the University of Hawai'i. "It is my hope that audiences everywhere will walk away with a precious sense about Rotuma, its culture, and its people, and that we all will recognize our need for the wisdom of our ancestors."
From the film's conception, Hereniko took special care to see that The Land Has Eyes would accurately represent the Rotuman people and culture. In 1999, he returned to Rotuma, travelling from village to village, sharing the story of the film and receiving blessings from the islanders. In 2000, the Hereniko family home, located in the village of Mea, was transformed into the production headquarters. Each crew member stayed with a family from the island since there are no hotels or restaurants in Rotuma. A majority of the cast were Rotumans, many of whom had never been inside a movie theater.
Hereniko notes, "I'm committed to creating works of art that treat Pacific Islanders with respect and dignity. This doesn't mean that all my characters are perfect human beings. It simply means that they are fully human and believable, with great potential to do good as well as evil."
Several aspects of The Land Has Eyes are similar to Hereniko's own experiences growing up in Rotuma. His father was also falsely accused of a crime he did not commit and died when Hereniko was fourteen. Like Viki's character, Hereniko excelled in school, seeing it as the "only way out" of his difficult situation.
"I think The Land Has Eyes has the potential to make people more aware of our spiritual and enduring relationship with the land and to see the land as a living being, which is a view held by many native people around the world. In today's climate, this is an important message for all of us," says Hereniko.
While this is Hereniko's first feature film, the award-winning artist has written internationally popular books and plays. Recognizing a desire to express his stories visually, Hereniko evolved into a filmmaker. Together with his wife, Jeannette Paulson Hereniko, the couple established the film production company, Te Maka Productions.