Pear ta Ma ‘on Maf / The Land Has Eyes (87 min., 2004) is a visually stunning film set on the remote island of Rotuma in the South Pacific. Directed by Vilsoni Hereniko, it is the first indigenous-made feature-length film from Fiji. Its making is an admirable example of how the process of producing a movie can be as important as the finished film.
“I wanted to give something back to my community; I wanted my people to take pride in their language,” Hereniko, a professor at the University of Hawaii, told an audience as he introduced the film during the fifth-annual imagineNative Film Festival in Toronto, Ontario. “Today, people no longer live in traditional thatched-roof houses. The whole movie set had to be constructed, yet after we were done, people moved in and are living there.” The film also encouraged the people of Rotuma to relearn traditions such as mat-weaving and canoe-making.
The Land Has Eyes centers around Viki, a young girl who fights to clear her family’s name in the face of the island’s corrupt colonial administration. Strong, independent, and smart, she is inspired by the Warrior Woman from her island’s mythology as she enters womanhood amidst cultural and family challenges. The lush beauty of the island contrasts with her struggle for justice as she follows her dream of leaving the remote island to pursue further education in Fiji.
Viki adores her father, a patient, traditional Rotuman man named Hapati, and listens intently to his stories. When she becomes angry with her mother and sister for keeping her from learning how to cook and weave mats, Hapati encourages her to develop her scholastic abilities. Viki excels in school, where she learns English quickly, but her world begins to crumble when Hapati is wrongly accused of stealing coconuts by their wealthy neighbor, and their community turns against them. Because Hapati cannot understand English, his neighbor is able to frame him and only Viki, hiding under the court window, knows of the injustice. The movie’s title comes from Hapati’s reassurance to Viki of the ancient Rotuman belief that the land is vigilant and will eventually avenge wrongdoing.
When Hapati’s overwork to pay off his court fine overtakes him, Viki enters into her own inner, surreal realm, as the village people gossip about her mental instability and rebellious ways. The end of the story proves that her father was correct about the land’s vigilance.
The beautiful visuals, haunting music, and realistic characters lend honesty and simplicity to this story, which is based on Hereniko’s own life story. The director lived on Rotuma Island until he was 16, when he won a scholarship to complete his secondary education in Fiji. In the 1960s and 1970s, administrators for the former British colony had no knowledge of the local customs or language, and often allowed corrupt members of the community to take advantage of fellow islanders. The importance of knowledge both old and new are woven together throughout the film, as the heroine bucks tradition and uses her modern education, along with her respect for her cultural beliefs, to win justice for her family.