Since Nanook was captured on film fishing through a hole in the Northern ice, the documentary form has brought millions of other lives into our own. In a stunning choice by Queer Screen’s Mardi Gras Film Festival, Tonga’s Leitis community will warm your heart, give you hope and inspire you to be Fearless.
LEITIS IN WAITING is an emotional and motivating feature documentary about the transgender community of the Kingdom of Tonga and it begins The Guide's coverage of this year's Mardi Gras FF.
Reflecting the colours of the nation’s flag, the film begins with white intertitles on a red background and one of these will pull the breath from you. And will join an LGBTQI audience together in an understanding that the issues that these women face may be site-specific, but are despairingly common for trans people. Murder, bashing, thoughts of suicide, familial rejection, homelessness, poverty will raise their ugliness in a beautiful film of warmth and hope.
Joey “Joleen” Matael is a remarkable person and our guide through the cultural and contemporary situation of Leitis. It seems that trans women were a respected subculture in Tongan society, Joey has unprecedented access and interaction with the Royal Family and Princess Salote Lupepau’u Tuita-Taione is the patron of the group. But there have been recent changes in the landscape of sexual rights in the archipelago.
The Galaxy Festival is quite the celebration and has all the glamour, glitz, laughter and lip-synch action that we expect leading up to the crowning. Eva Baron is a young Leitis and her journey to the pageant has sadness and joy. Eva’s story will provide a very personal insight into the current situation and her honesty and bravery are both innate and won at hard cost.
In the second year of the documentary the atmosphere for LGBTQI peoples is very difficult and Galaxy is cancelled in favour of a forum. With the reaction of some Christian groups to the UN’s declaration of human rights, Joey and the group respond with Talanoa, a culturally appropriate way of sharing truths in communal dialogue. As a devout Roman Catholic, Joey has personal support from many leaders but the American-backed evangelists have a fundamentalist and intolerant agenda. And some of that stuff is deeply upsetting to hear.
LEITIS IN WAITING has an excellent production team behind it and the quality of the film gives the viewer an ease of watching which allows for full immersion in the themes and stories. The images are clear and interesting, no mean feat considering the challenges of heat and humidity. Evocative and detailed, the use of close-ups is especially affecting with a lovely audio quality and editing to bring the emotional and personal to any audience. Plus it has some cracker music, both original and well known … Eva’s ‘Proud Mary’ will make you want to get up and cheer! And Joey’s soulful interpretation of a rousing ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ is brilliant.
Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu is the story creator and co-producer. A Polynesian trans woman who was once a winner of Galaxy, she is joined by producer/ directors Dean Hamer and Joe Wilson who have crafted a film which is at once heartwarming and welcoming but also a warning. The film is deeply human, funny and rich in sharing but it also highlights the fight that this community has on its hands. LEITIS IN WAITING is a documentary to enrich our lives with a compassionate expression of love, courage and truth to self.