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  • Kimberlee Bassford

Filming in Samoa begins

Sia Figiel (middle), director of photography Jay Hubert (right) and I after filming Sia at church

We just had our first shoot in Samoa for the documentary we've been working on about novelist Sia Figiel. It was my first time back to Samoa since I studied abroad there in spring 1998 as part of a Pacific Islands program through the School for International Training.

At the time, I chose to study abroad in Samoa because I wanted to experience Polynesia. Having grown up in Hawai‘i, I thought I knew a lot about Polynesian history and culture, but still I wanted to see what life was like in a sovereign Pacific nation.

That's when I first encountered the work of Sia Figiel. I remember lying in my dorm room at the University of the South Pacific Alafua campus reading her debut novel, where we once belonged. It was raw and powerful-shocking even.

Told through the experiences of a Samoan adolescent girl in the 1970s, the book explores taboo subjects such as child abuse, domestic violence, incest and suicide. But it's also poetic and humorous and beautifully interweaves Samoan history, myths and legends.

It was therefore somewhat surreal to be returning to Samoa now to see and film Sia herself. She had recently moved back after being away for nearly a decade, and so I definitely wanted to capture her homecoming for the film.

I loved feeling her excitement as she showed us her family's land where she is planning to create a healing garden. She also took us to her natal village, Matautu Tai, which I was surprised to discover was just outside downtown Apia. During our short time together, she herself remarked at the many changes in Apia. It made me wonder: can one ever really go home?

I suppose that's a question we'll explore as we continue to follow her journey. In the meantime, here are a few pictures from the shoot. I expect we'll return to Samoa at least once or twice more to film, so stay tuned!


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