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Fiji's 'The Land Has Eyes'


Right now, members of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences' foreign film committee are looking at movies, selecting the final five nominees in that category. The Academy says that 58 countries have submitted films to compete in this year's Oscar race. That's more countries than ever before. For the first time ever, Costa Rica, Iraq and Fiji have entered films.

(Soundbite of "The Land Has Eyes")

Group of People: (Chanting in foreign language)

You're hearing sound from a scene of a village festival on the island of Rotuma in Fiji. Vilsoni Hereniko is a professor of Pacific Island Studies at the University of Hawaii. He wrote and directed the Fiji entry, which is called "The Land Has Eyes." He joins us from Los Angeles.

Thank you very much for coming in.

Professor VILSONI HERENIKO (University of Hawaii; Director, "The Land Has Eyes"): Thank you for having me here.

WERTHEIMER: First of all, tell me: What does it mean, `the land has eyes'?

Prof. HERENIKO: The title comes from the Rotuman proverb (foreign language spoken). And the full proverb is `The land has eyes, the land has teeth and always knows the truth,' the idea being that the land is always vigilant, watchful and knows when injustice has been done to people.

WERTHEIMER: Now the movie is about injustice, disgrace, retribution, redemption. I understand it's roughly autobiographical.

Prof. HERENIKO: Yes. A lot of it is based on real-life experiences, things that happened to either myself or my family. I was born on the island and grew up there until I was 16 years old, when I left and went to Fiji proper to further my education. So it's heavily inspired by those real-life events, though of course it's largely a work of fiction.

WERTHEIMER: Now the--in the film, a young girl wants to defend her father, who has been wrongly accused of stealing. She is the leading character in the film. She is a girl. So obviously you did change around some things about the story.

Prof. HERENIKO: Yes, that's right. When I started writing, the protagonist was a boy about 14 years old and, of course, largely modeled on myself growing up on the island. But then one day I had writer's block, and my wife asked me would I thought it might be better to change the gender of the protagonist so that it's a girl, and of course at first I resisted. And she thought it would allow me to use my imagination more, to free me up; though, of course, in terms of the emotion or authenticity or the honesty that I was trying to get at in the film, I think that really didn't change.

WERTHEIMER: The island--in the film, the island seems very beautiful, and your film has lots of vignettes about island life. There's a wedding. There's a sort of a village meeting. All of those things, I suppose, are taken from your memories?

Prof. HERENIKO: One of the things I was trying to do in this film is to weave into the action sort of ethnographic information that for the Rotuman people are very important. In some ways, it is what you might call indigenous filmmaking. This is why in this particular story you have quite a bit of the cultural life on the island and the lifestyle of the people, their values, so that viewers don't just get a story that entertains them but they're also educated about what it's like to live on an island and to experience a lifestyle that is very different from theirs.

WERTHEIMER: What do you think of your chances?

Prof. HERENIKO: Well, I don't try to think of my chances there because for me it's more important that native people get to tell their stories. And here is an opportunity for someone from inside the culture to tell a story that comes from within. And that to me is very empowering, not just for myself, but also for other Pacific islanders. If you think about how few movies there are that have come out of this part of the world, it's a big thing for us because this is the most powerful medium. And it's wonderful to have this medium accessible for native voices, voices that we have never heard before.

WERTHEIMER: Vilsoni Hereniko, who is the writer and director of the Fijian film "The Land Has Eyes," which has been entered for the Oscars. He was speaking to us from Los Angeles.

Thank you very much.

Prof. HERENIKO: Thank you so much for this opportunity. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As NPR's senior national correspondent, Linda Wertheimer travels the country and the globe for NPR News, bringing her unique insights and wealth of experience to bear on the day's top news stories.