Writer/director Tauti Tusi Tamasese’s The Orator, billed as a story about a small man with a big heart who must find the strength to speak up for those that he loves, starts six weeks of principal photography on Oct 27.

Very very few features have ever been made in the tiny Pacific Island nation of Samoa and even fewer in the Samoan language with a Samoan writer/director and cast, as this one will be.

One of the aspects of the script that excited the principal investor, the New Zealand Film Commission (NZFC), is that it is a window into a country that, despite the pervasive influences of modern communication, has managed to integrate its culture into modern life. The sales arm of the NZFC is handling sales.

“One of the things I love about this film is that it is completely universal and also culturally specific,” producer Catherine Fitzgerald told ScreenDaily from Samoa. That said, she is wary about playing up the ethnographic aspects of the setting.

“We want the film to communicate on a human level, for people to understand it without knowing anything about Samoa … But I am sure people will come away from the film being curious about the place and the dramatic natural environment.”

After months of auditions and workshops, non-actors Fiaula Sanote and Tausili Pushparaj will play husband-and-wife Saili and Vaaiga in the contemporary story. Courage is one of the themes of the story although Samoa is not an individualistic society but one in which people show a lot of respect for each other.

There is one private investor alongside the NZFC and sponsors and assistance from the Samoan Government is helping to stretch the dollars further.

Transmission Films will release the film in New Zealand, Australia and the Pacific. The associate producers are Maiava Nathaniel Lees and Michael Eldred. Leon Narbey, who was behind the camera on Dean Spanley and Whale Rider is the cinematographer.

Tamasese was born and grew up in Samoa but studied film and creative writing in New Zealand. Fitzgerald and Narbey worked with him on the short film Sacred Spaces, which will next screen at the ImagineNative International Film Festival in Toronto and the Hawaii International Film Festival

Films made or partly made in Samoa include: A Story Of The South Seas (1926), directed by Robert J Flaherty; Return To Paradise (1953), adapted from a James Michener novel and starring Gary Cooper; Moana:andSons For The Return Home (1979) and Flying Fox In A Freedom Tree (1989), which were both adapted from novels written by one of the country’s most significant novelists, Albert Wendt.

Fitzgerald said a German documentary and reality show Survivor, both for television, were made in Samoa last year.