I always enjoy true underdog stories, so I have been looking forward to seeing O Le Tulafale (The Orator).  O Le Tulafale is the first-ever Samoan feature film, shot entirely on Upolu and in the Samoan language. Written and directed by Tusi Tamasese, it’s an unlikely love story of “a little man with a powerful voice,” as well as a wonderful glimpse into Samoan culture.

I had the great pleasure of talking about the film many months ago over a long lunch in Apia with Tusi and his producer, Catherine Fitzgerald. At that time Tusi was in the midst of filming, and he spoke very passionately about his story and his actors. I now see why.

In an interesting Samoan cast including Tausili Pushparaj and Salamasina Silivelia Mataia, Fa’afiaulu Sagote stands out in the title role of Saili. My colleague Chad Berbert had the good fortune of chatting with Fa’afiaulu last week, and I thought I’d share a bit of their conversation:

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Chad: I am very interested in hearing a little about how and why you became involved with The Orator.

Fa’afiaula: The director, Tusi Tamasese, came to Savai’i looking for a dwarf character for his movie. He had heard about a dwarf in our village from people, and so he came  to see. Tusi came into our family and explained the story of the movie and the role of the main character. I felt comfortable with Tusi and the idea of the film. I liked the idea.

Chad: What is it about the movie that you liked?

Fa’afiaula: The things that the main character, Saili, went through in the movie were exactly the same types of things happening in my life. It was a mirror of my life.

Chargé Chad Berbert with Faafiaula Sagote, who played Saili in The Orator.

Chad with Faafiaula Sagote, star of The Orator.

Chad: Can you tell a little bit about your personal experiences growing up and how those experiences related to the script of the movie?

Fa’afiaula: Growing up in my family, I guess, I was an odd figure to most people and was not treated the same. Most people looked down or saw little of me. Some even teased me. Some people in my family and village did not take me seriously. I was treated like an outsider. When I was given the script for the film, I was told to put my whole heart and mind into the role by making it my own. That was not difficult because reading through the pages I found the struggles that Saili was facing were exactly those I faced in my life. I recognized and related to the story.

Chad: You were extremely convincing in the role.  Were you worried how you would be perceived, or how things would turn out?

Fa’afiaula: No, I found it easy being Saili. I had no reservations about the perceptions of people, and that was not a factor. I never let negative reactions of what people might say affect my work. I wanted to have fun and be happy in making the film. So I did. I enjoyed making the film.

Faafiaula as Saili in The Orator.

Faafiaula as Saili in The Orator.

Chad: What do you hope the film communicates or achieves?

Fa’afiaula: There are many messages from the film, but what I want people to take out of the film is humility, honesty, and love. The character Saili is humble, and through this humility and love for his family he was able to find the courage to do the right thing and to speak out.

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Thank you to Fa’afiaula and Chad for sharing some of their conversation with us. I’m happy to have a glimpse behind what is a timeless story and a wonderful film. As the review in the Hollywood Reporter said:

“Samoan-born filmmaker Tusi Tamasese finds eloquent voice with The Orator, a beautifully nuanced debut that sheds light on the time-steeped traditions and complex ceremonial rituals of his people. … [W]hile it succeeds on one level as an insider’s intricate cultural study, it is powered by a slow-burning underdog drama that canvasses weighty themes of family honor, courage, and redemption.”

When O Le Tulafale comes to a theater near you, see for yourself.