Tusi Tamasese spent 18 years in his native Samoa, before moving to New Zealand and completing a double major in film and political science. After shooting 2009 short film Va Tapuia in Samoa with private funding, he directed his debut feature The Orator / O Le Tulafale, which was made entirely in the Samoan language. This tale of an outsider in conflict with his community scored multiple honours at the 2011 Venice Film Festival. Tamasese followed it with New Zealand-set father and daughter drama One Thousand Ropes; the tale of family and redemption was invited to premiere at the 2017 Berlin Film Festival.
... I was interested in the image of a chief — an orator — in Samoa: to me an orator is tall, fearless and well-spoken. I wanted to see what happens when you strip that away, and I ended up with a small person as a metaphor. Tusi Tamasese on The Orator, in a 2011 interview with website Nisimazine.eu
Writer/director Tusi Tamasese won multiple awards for his first feature, Samoan drama The Orator - O Le Tulafale. This New Zealand-set follow-up involves a Samoan father whose daughter Ilisa (Shortland Street's Frankie Adams) returns home, pregnant and badly beaten. Uelese Petaia (star of Albert Wendt adaptation Sons for the Return Home) is the boxer turned baker, in a tale of family, redemption and revenge. One Thousand Ropes debuted in the Panorama section of the 2017 Berlin Film Festival. The clip captures the recording of the movie's soundtrack in a Wellington chapel.
Tusi Tamasese’s first feature tells the story of a taro farmer (played by real life farmer Fa’afiaula Sagote) who finds the courage to stand tall for his family and culture, and stand up to sceptical villagers. Variety called it “compelling drama”. Though previous films (e.g. Flying Fox on a Freedom Tree) had told stories inspired by Samoan writers, The Orator was the first feature written and directed by a Samoan — and the first filmed in Samoan. When it debuted in September 2011 at the prestigious Venice Film Festival, it won a special jury mention in the Orizzonti (New Horizons) section.
Taro planter Lui’s grief for his dead wife is blighting his life and crops. A widow, Malia, is bound by anger to the grave of her abusive husband, as the rising sea slowly drowns it. When Lui and Malia meet by chance, he’s provided with a path from his hurt. Filmed in Samoan on the island of Upolu, and directed by Samoan-born Tusi Tamasese, the short is a fable-like meditation on communion, cooking and sacred places. It was selected for the Clermont-Ferrand and Hawaii film festivals, and was the precursor to Tamasese’s Venice-selected debut feature, The Orator.