Film about Samoan navigator wins top prize

LOIMATA, The Sweetest Tears, a documentary set partly in Samoa, has won the Grand Prix du Jury award at Tahiti’s international film festival.

The film, which tells the story of master navigator, Samoan Lilomaiava Ema Siope, was awarded the honour at this month's F.I.F.O. (Festival International du Film Documentaire Océanien).

The film's Director, Anna Marbrook told the Samoa Observer that it was a "journey alongside the extraordinary ocean-going waka (canoe) captain, Lilo Ema Siope on an emotional healing journey in the last months of her life.”

“The film is an intimate exploration of how a family works courageously to liberate themselves from the shackles of the past and together break the silence on a secret that has kept them apart. This is a journey of courage, tears, laughter and above all, unconditional love,” said Ms Marbrook.

LOIMATA premiered in late 2020 at Whanau Mārama the New Zealand International Film Festival to sold out audiences and rave reviews.

“Those who saw it responded to the incredible courage of the Siope aiga whose sole purpose is to encourage others who may be facing similar struggle," she said.

"Then it travelled to Hawai’i where it was 'top ten picks' of the festival. Audiences celebrated Lilo Ema Siope.

“Now, to win the Grand Prix du Jury at F.I.F.O.

"We are so happy that LOIMATA is being recognised at such an important Pacific documentary festival. Of course the dream for all of us involved in the film is that many people will be able to see LOIMATA, enjoy it and gain strength from it.”

LOIMATA is set in Samoa and New Zealand. But Ms Marbrook said its themes were universal.

“While LOIMATA celebrates the extraordinary leadership found in the Pacific, the concerns of the film connect to a much broader audience. The core themes of the film are how a family can heal itself by going inside culture and inside its own framework and paradigms,” the Director said.

“In the case of LOIMATA we see the power of a family to change even the most difficult of situations through dialogue, faith and a return to humanity. We see one woman deciding to do this and then the family follows. 

"This is encouraging to many people both in the Pacific and internationally. Ema is Samoan with a deep love and knowledge of culture who has had exceptional mentors both at home and across the region.

“To win a Grand Prix is an affirmation that our stories [...] are being celebrated. Audiences want to meet our beautiful, humble heroes and celebrate the light they are shining on our humanity.”

LOIMATA was filmed between 2017 and 2019 in Lano, Lalomanu, Loimata, Apia and New Zealand.

“When it became clear to me that my wonderful friend Ema was dying I was compelled to capture her extraordinary story before she passed away," Ms Marbrook said.

"Like any great leader Ema did not want to sit around and talk about her life. She had very important things to do both in New Zealand and Samoa and the film captures the passion with which she lived her final years. It was a big challenge to make it because of Ema's ill health.

“We were raising money at the same time as filming. Initially private investors who believed in the project funded us then New Zealand On Air and Maori Television came on board. Then the New Zealand Film Commission gave us a Film Finishing Grant. We were also supported by D.O.C. Edge and a crowdfunding campaign. Ema's incredible family in Samoa took care of us beautifully throughout the filming process as they also recognised Ema's mana and esteem as a pre-eminent voyager in the Pacific. So many people have contributed to the film and the success can be attributed to their faith in LOIMATA.”

LOIMATA is in central Savai'i and it is a place of great significance to the Siope aiga, she said.

“It is a place that, as the name of the film - 'LOIMATA The Sweetest Tears' - suggests, where many tears have been shed but much healing has taken place. Tears of healing and release can be very sweet tears.

“The film is in many ways a reverse migration story. The Siope family travelled to New Zealand in the 1960s to settle so Ema takes them back through their history and their homelands/islands with the belief that to go to those beautiful significant places of their past and unite with family will facilitate powerful healing and reconnection.”

She produced LOIMATA with her filmmaker brother, Jim Marbook, and acclaimed executive producers University of Auckland academic Dr Tamasailau Suaalii-Sauni and award-winning filmmaker Dame Gaylene Preston.

The cinematographer was Jess Charlton, editor Malcolm Clarke, sound recordist John McNicholas and composer Matthew Suttor.

“We are all looking forward to bringing the film to Samoa and at this stage as soon as COVID allows we will be there,” Ms. Marbrook said.

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