Mother Tongue Film Festival: Leitis in Waiting
February 22, 2019
This evening's program was presented in partnership with New York University/Stonewall 50. It featured the film, Leitis in Waiting, preceded by Voicemail, Tama, and Koriva with a discussion including Joe Wilson, Director/Producer, Leitis in Waiting, and Jeannette Soon-Ludes, Director of Scholarships and Programs at the Asian & Pacific Islander American Scholarship Fund, that followed. Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu, Story Creator & Producer, Leitis in Waiting, and Joey Mataele, Protagonist & Campaign Spokesperson, Leitis in Waiting, joined the Q&A portion of the discussion virtually. Co-Director of the festival, Dr. Joshua Bell, gave the introduction.
The Mother Tongue Film Festival, a program of the Recovering Voices Initiative, will host its fourth annual program February 21-24, 2019 at various locations around the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. Through over 20 films and audiovisual experiences from over 15 countries, the festival explores and celebrates language revitalization efforts around the world.
Joey Mataele is a leader in the LGBTQI and human rights movements in the Pacific. She co-founded and currently chairs the Pacific Sexual and Gender diversity Network, is the Pacific Island Representative for the International Gay and Lesbian Association, and chairperson of the South Pacific MSM Network Group. She co-founded the Tonga Leiti's Association in 1992, and developed the Miss Galaxy Pageant as an annual event to support it. Joey is also a talented singer and entertainer who understands the importance of oral culture and the role of song, humour and dance in Pacific cultures.
Hina Wong-Kalu is a Native Hawaiian teacher, cultural practitioner and community leader with a long history of perpetuating Kanaka Maoli language, philosophy and traditions, and promoting cross-cultural work throughout the Pacific Islands. She also engages in many community affairs and civic activities, and is currently the Chair of the O'ahu Island Burial Council. Hina was both a protagonist and educational advisor for the award winning documentaries KUMU HINA and A PLACE IN THE MIDDLE, and received a White House Champion of Change and Elison S. Onizuka Human Rights Memorial Award from the National Education Association for the groundbreaking impact campaigns associated with those films.
Joshua Bell, Co-Director, Mother Tongue Film Festival
Joshua Bell (D.Phil 2006) is a cultural anthropologist and the Curator of Globalization at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History. Combining ethnographic fieldwork with research in museums and archives, Bell examines the shifting local and global network of relationships between persons, artefacts and the environment. Since 2000 he has been working with communities in the Purari Delta of Papua New Guinea to document transformations in the wake of regional resource extraction, as well as communities’ heritage traditions. In 2011 he began an ongoing collaborative project on the material, social and linguistic dimensions of cellular telephony in Washington, D.C.. This work is complemented with ongoing collections based projects on anthropology and natural history collections with a particular focus on Oceania.
At NMNH he curates the Melanesian collections and the 8 million feet of film that compose the National Anthropological Film Collection at the National Anthropological Archives. He directs the Summer Institute of Museum of Anthropology, a summer course funded by the National Science Foundation which teaches graduate students how to effectively engage with museum collections. He is a co-director of the Mother Tongue Film Festival which celebrates language and cultural diversity through showcasing films and filmmakers from around the world. The festival is an annual outreach event of the Recovering Voices program, which connects communities to Smithsonian collections in the effort to support language and knowledge documentation, sustainability and revitalization. Bell has edited several books and written articles on materiality, expeditions, the politics of heritage and history, visual return, history of collecting, media and cell phone repair.
Jeannette Soon-Ludes, Director of Scholarships and Programs, Asian & Pacific Islander American Scholarship Fund
Jeannette Soon-Ludes is currently serving as the Director of Scholarships and Programs at the Asian & Pacific Islander American Scholarship Fund. She is also a recent graduate of the Women’s Studies doctoral program at the University of Maryland. Her dissertation, Dissonant Belonging and the Making of Community: Native Hawaiian Claims to Selfhood and Home, explores Kanaka Maoli (indigenous Hawaiian) identity formation. Her work is a critical intervention into discourses that frame multi-ethnicity as incompatible with indigenous identity, arguing instead that indigenous multi-ethnicity enables communities to thrive under conditions of colonialism.
As an intellectual, protector, and administrator Jeannette is deeply invested in producing – and questioning – the ways in which Kanaka Maoli and other indigenous people find success in higher education. Her work in all these spaces strives toward producing individual “success” while questioning also the deeply rooted ways in which success is both structurally prohibitive and antithetical to indigenous knowledge systems.
Joe Wilson, Director/Producer, Leitis in Waiting
Joe Wilson is an Emmy Award-winning filmmaker & human rights advocate whose work with Dean Hamer, his partner in life and film-activism, explores oppression and empowerment among society's most vulnerable communities. Their 2010 PBS film Out in the Silence, a Sundance Documentary Fund grantee and selection of Good Pitch Washington and San Francisco, focused on the challenges of LGBT people in rural and small town America and became the centerpiece of a multi-year national campaign to open dialogue and build bridges across socio-political divides. These efforts were highlighted in impact reports by the Center for Social Media at American University and The Fledgling Fund. Their 2014 PBS films Kumu Hina and A Place in the Middle brought Hawaiian cultural perspectives to the fore in national and international conversations on issues of gender diversity and inclusion. Kumu Hina was supported by Pacific Islanders in Communications and ITVS, won the Audience Award for its national PBS broadcast on Independent Lens, and received the GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Documentary. A Place in the Middle premiered at the Berlinale and won awards at numerous festivals around the world. The film and educational toolkit, available for free at APlaceintheMiddle.org, are at the center of a strength-based, school-focused anti-bullying campaign.
Wilson's latest film is Leitis in Waiting. Produced in association with Pacific Islanders in Communications, the PBS documentary follows an intrepid group of transgender women fighting a rising tide of religious fundamentalism in the South Pacific Kingdom of Tonga.
Previously, Wilson served as Director of the Human Rights and Global Security Program at Public Welfare Foundation in Washington, D.C. and Producer of Pacifica National Radio's public affairs program Democracy Now. He received a B.A. in Sociology and Economics from the University of Pittsburgh and served as a Peace Corps volunteer in the West African nation of Mali.
Leitis in Waiting | 2017 | 70 min. | Tonga | Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu, Dean Hamer, & Joe Wilson | Languages: English, Tongan
The island kingdom of Tonga is home to a vibrant and creative community of native transgender women known locally as leitis, who have held essential roles in Tongan society. Tonga is the only South Pacific Island to never have been colonized, but a rise in American-financed evangelicals threatens to resurrect colonial-era laws that would criminalize the leitis’ lives. Over the course of an eventful year, Leitis in Waiting follows Joey, a devout Catholic of noble descent, as she organizes an exuberant beauty pageant, mentors a young contestant rejected by her family and garners the support of a Royal Princess. With unexpected humor and extraordinary access to the Kingdom’s royals and religious leaders, this emotional journey reveals what it means to be different in a society ruled by tradition, and what it takes to be accepted without forsaking who you are.
Tama | 2017 | 9 min. | New Zealand | Jared Flitcroft and Jack O'Donnell | Language: English
Tama, a young Māori boy who is deaf, wants to perform the ceremonial haka dance despite his brother and father’s admonishment. On a near-fatal car trip to visit his mother’s grave, Tama confronts his father and begins the process of intergenerational healing and cultural reclamation. This film is the result of a collaboration between between deaf and hearing filmmakers.
Koriva | 2017 | 7 min. | Papua New Guinea | Euralia Paine | Languages: Tok Pisin, Motu
Visiting her relatives in Vabukori Village from Papua New Guinea’s capital city of Port Moresby, Koriva wants to wear her older cousin’s earrings and learn traditional dance. Her parents forbid her to do so, arguing that these traditions have no place in modern urban life. Koriva persists and shows them that one can be modern and value one’s traditions.
The Mother Tongue Film Festival is presented by Recovering Voices, a collaborative Smithsonian initiative and partnership between the National Museum of Natural History, the National Museum of the American Indian, and the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. Founded in 2009, Recovering Voices recognizes that language communities and scholars have a mutual interest in documenting, revitalizing, and sustaining languages and the knowledge embedded in them. Through Recovering Voices, the Smithsonian strives to collaborate with communities and other institutions to address issues of indigenous language, knowledge diversity and sustainability at the national and global levels. In collaboration with communities and partner organizations, Recovering Voices seeks to improve access to the Smithsonian’s diverse collections—archival, biological and cultural—and to support interdisciplinary research, documentation, and revitalization. In doing so we seek to understand the dynamics of intergenerational knowledge transfer and to support existing community initiatives focusing on language and knowledge sustainability. The Mother Tongue Film Festival was created to promote this vision to a public audience through audiovisual media.