Sunday, January 31, 2010

FIFO Pacific International Film Festival

Today I drove an hour and a half to Papeete for the final day of the FIFO Pacific International Documentary Film Festival; all I can say is WOW. The festival showcases films from around the Pacific from Australia and Papua New Guinea to Hawaii, French Polynesia and everywhere in between.

FIFO Films are chosen for the competition several months prior to the six-day festival and an international panel of judges vote for the winner. A 1000 CFP (about US$12) ticket gets you a day pass that allows you to watch as many films as you want in the handful of small theaters on the Papeete waterfront. Most of the documentaries run between half an hour and an hour an a half.

Here are trailers of a few 2010 selections:

This was the winner of the festival: Te Henua E Noho, There Once Was an Island, a sad story, brilliantly documented, about Takuu, a Polynesian atoll off of Papua New Guinea that is indisputably drowning in rising sea levels.

Te Henua e Noho Film Trailer from On The Level Productions on Vimeo.

Lost in Wonderland: I LOVED this film about the incredibly masculine and rich life of a cross dressing, justice-driven lawyer in New Zealand

Lost In Wonderland Trailer from Costa Botes on Vimeo.

From Australia, Bastardy was one of the festival highlights. The film tells the story of Jack, an Aboriginal heroin addict who lives on the streets and juggles a successful acting career with a life of crime.

Noho Hewa is a rare and militant look at the US "occupation" of the Hawaiian Islands

The Topp Twins, Untouchable Girls is another fantastic film about some very entertaining twin lesbian sisters in New Zealand

All the films are in English or subtitled in English. Unfortunately there aren't any trailers on the web for some of the French produced films and smaller productions. My favorite film was Les Possedes de Faaite, which brilliantly traced the history of the shocking witch burnings that took place on the remote atoll of Faaite in the Tuamotu Archipelgo in 1987. The film goes deep into the psyche of remote island living (that I am, for obvious reasons, fascinated by) and the effects Christianity has when mixed with Polynesian beliefs. I've been scouring the web to find a copy of this film on DVD but with no luck! If anyone knows where I can find a copy of it please send me a message.

For more info about the festival go to the FIFO website.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

My Top 5 Favorite Melaka Restaurants

I might live in Tahiti but my part of my heart is always traipsing around Southeast Asia tracking down great places to eat. Food here at home is pretty bland in comparison to the continent, and there's limited ingredients, so I often drift off into craving dreams about one of my favorite food cities, Melaka Malaysia. I've covered this city for Lonely Planet's Malaysia, Singapore & Brunei, Southeast Asia on a Shoestring and KL, Melaka & Penang guides. My husband hates it when I cover Malaysia because I always come back with a couple extra kilos stuck on my rear.

So here are my top five favorite restaurants, places that make me desperately hungry to buy a plane ticket out of here - at least for a meal.

* Low Yong Mow (Jln Tokong) - It doesn't get much more ambient than this Chinese dim sum breakfast stop located directly across from one of the town's most important mosques. Little English is spoken but you can point to what looks good from the carts pushed around by old Chinese ladies. The pao (pork buns) are Malaysia famous and the best I've tasted.

* Pak Putra (Jln Kota Laksmana)- A humble Pakistani tandoori place with clay ovens and a bunch of plastic tables and chairs out on the sidewalk. It's super busy, and a wonderful place to socialize in the balmy night air with a kick-ass mango lassi and just about any meat or seafood you can imagine cooked to perfection.

* Selvam (Jln Temenggong) - My favorite Indian banana leaf place in the country with a to-die for Friday afternoon vegetarian 10-dish special.

* Nancy's Kitchen (Jln Hang Lekir) - The food here is about on par with the many other Nonya (Malaya and Chinese fusion) places in town, but this restaurant is one of the oldest, is family run and pays special attention to authenticity. The owners are also particularly friendly so you can always expect a nice chat alongside your meal.

* Capitol Satay (Lg Bukit Cina) - You gotta try satay celup, a Melaka specialty a bit like satay steamboat where you cook your own skewers of tofu, meat and veg in bubbling vats of soup. There are a bunch of flashier new places popping up around town but I love this unpretentious, very popular old stalwart.

For a feel for what Melaka city is like on the ground, check out my video on Lonely Planet Television.

Monday, January 18, 2010

South Pacific Secrets: So What if Grandpa was a Rockefeller?

Yesterday my dear friend Katupu, granddaughter of Tepuku, the Paumotu woman who welcomed my husband's family to Ahe Atoll in the Tuamotus in 1973, came by for lunch. One of the things I love most about talking with friends from the outer islands is how many amazing stories they have. People in cities have nothing on folks who live out in the middle of nowhere when it comes to crazy tales, believe me. So here is one of my favorites from yesterday:

The subject of Tepuku came up and soon we were laughing about the old story of her two-month fling with a Mr Rockefeller (yes, of that particular family we've all heard of) when he came through on a boat back in the 50s or 60s; consequently she had his child. Soon after the baby was born, and once Rockefeller was long gone, Tepuku married a local man, Raumati and everyone pretty much forgot about the American who had sailed through. Tepuku never contacted the Rockefellers and as far as I know, the man was never aware that he fathered a daughter. This daughter was Katupu's mother, Taio. Taio is beautiful and obviously half Caucasian with fair skin and an elegant, very non-Polynesian, slightly hooked nose. Katupu, her daughter, has the same slim, aristocratic nose.

Katupu was raised mostly by her grandparents on Ahe and nowadays her main occupation is taking care of aging Tepuku. When asked about her family history, Katupu laughs ,"Who cares who he was? What did that guy ever do for us and why would we bother to contact him? Raumati was my grandfather, he was the one who raised us."

While most people would be groveling at the Rockefeller door, Katupu and her family couldn't imagine wanting to change anything about their life, and besides Raumati was a local legend who any Polynesian would be proud to call family. Soon she was telling us stories about her grandfather's skills, how he could sense the weather coming hours before it arrived and how he predicted the massively destructive 1983 cyclone that flattened Ahe, several hours before the storm started - this is in the days before there was any warning system in the Tuamotus. Instead of getting nervous and anxious, Raumati slowly and steadily began to prepare for the big wind and by the time it came everyone was safely closed up in the town hall. No one died even though it was the biggest cyclone to hit in anyone's memory. Raumati with his sixth sense essentially saved his atoll.

My husband who knew Raumati calls him "the God of fishing," stating that there was nothing the man didn't know about fish - and this is compared with all the other Paumotu people who came from generations of living with the sea. Raumati could hit a fish with a spear from so far away that you couldn't even remotely see the fish. Perhaps he could just tell where the fish were from surface agitation. How cool is that?

So I agree with Katupu: what good is some foreign guy no matter who he was compared to a man who could catch fish using the force? To me, listening to these stories from my island friends who are invariably straight-forward, very sharp, yet refreshingly uncomplicated, makes me feel grounded. I think we all share these same, pure values somewhere - perhaps some people keeping them deeper than others - and we just need to scrape off society's garbage to remember what is important to our everyday existence. At least in the Tuamotus, fish and intuition are much more important than being rich and famous.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

A Paumotu Christmas

Every year my family and I head out to our old home in the remote Tuamotu Atolls for Christmas and New Years. I guess you could call this a 'blue Christmas' since in this land of flat coral spits and coconut palms, we are surrounded by electric turquoise sea and lagoon for the whole holiday season. There is no Internet, no plumbing, no cars and very little to do beyond swimming, reading, fishing, cooking and surfing. It's a little like camping and I love it.

Over the years we've developed our own holiday traditions. We now always pack a collection of indelible markers and nail polish and the kids begin our stay by collecting all the hermit crabs they can find. Then all of us spend hours decorating their shells with rainbows, stars, racing stripes and anything else that comes to mind. Over the next weeks the beaches look like a moving psychedelic army and soon we all know the crabs by name. "Hey I saw Triceratops all the way over by the boat hanger today! . . . Speed Larry 2 got in a fight and had his shell stolen! . . . Did you see Stars and Stripes eating that dead fish's eyeball?" This is all big news in the Tuamotus.

Time doesn't really matter in the atolls so for the last two years we have celebrated Christmas whenever we've felt like it. Last year it came late because the cargo ship with all our presents forgot to unload our boxes so we had to wait till nearly New Years to get all our food and gifts. This year Santa came and we celebrated a few days early simply because we wanted more time to enjoy our presents to each other. There are ironwood trees on the atoll that resemble real Christmas trees, but none near our place so we traditionally get a miki miki, a low lying hardy shrub with pretty small round green leaves. We stuff it in an old cabin biscuit tin filled with coral gravel then decorate it with coral pieces, old crab shells and homemade paper chains. Invariably the cats play with it and it looks pretty scraggly by its second day up but it does the holiday-cheer job for us.

Our Christmas feast depends on what we have. This year I baked a bunch of whole grain bread like I always do plus brownies (click here for my recipe), then we ate fried fish and spaghetti carbonara since we had to use up the bacon and cream before it went bad. My kids insisted we sing Happy Birthday to Jesus - we aren't Catholic but they both go to Catholic middle school and think this is really funny. Sometimes we have a bunch of people over but this year it was just my family, Laurent the pearl farm manager and Fletcher, a friend from the US.

Christmas is mellow but the real party is on New Years Eve when we have had up to 40 people come out and celebrate with us. But that's another story and another blog entry - coming soon!


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