Attend a sports match involving a Tongan team and you’ll experience a special, magical and contagious energy that Tongans call “mafana”. Now “mafana” has hit the big screen via ‘Red, White and Brass’, a feature film shot in Wellington and inspired by a true story.
It’s about a die-hard Tongan rugby fan called Maka, who misses out on tickets to a Tonga versus France 2011 Rugby World Cup game in Wellington. To see the game, he promises to deliver a band for the pre-match entertainment. The only problem is the band doesn’t exist, and he has just weeks to create one.
From the producers of ‘The Breaker Upperers’, ‘Cousins’ and ‘Hunt for the Wilderpeople’, ‘Red, White and Brass’ is the debut feature film for director Damon Fepulea’i, who co-wrote with co-producer Halaifonua (Nua) Finau.
Nua began writing and developing the idea for Red, White and Brass after seeing a Tongan band perform in the Royal Edinburgh Tattoo in Wellington. It wasn’t until he discussed the concept with a friend that he realised it was better to tell a story that was seeded in truth. He went back to draw on his own real-life experience involving his church brass band during the 2011 Rugby World Cup.
Nua recalls the day when the Tongan rugby team arrived in New Zealand. There was a sea of red and white flags, cars were decorated the colours of the national flag and even houses were painted red and white for the occasion.
“We all saw the craziness,” Nua recalls. “I think even [former All Black captain] Richie McCaw said ‘it wasn’t until the Tongans came that we realised that, oh shucks, this is a pretty big deal, the World Cup’.
“All of us in Wellington were eager to go, but tickets were expensive. There was a ballot system and we missed out, so we managed to hustle a performing spot in the opening ceremony,” explains Nua.
The film picked up pace once it had the backing of Piki Films, which brought them the “well-oiled machine” of executive producers Carthew Neal, Ainsley Gardiner and Taika Waititi.
For Nua, the main driver to make the film was to show his “Tongan-ness”. He also wanted to shine the spotlight on his community, and the people and places important to him.
‘Red, White and Brass’ is a bit of a family affair — Nua’s parents play themselves, and his older brother Lupeti plays his uncle. Other family members are involved too, as well as the members of his church band, Taulanga Ū Brass Band.
With support from Screen Wellington and Porirua, Hutt City and Wellington City councils, locations featured include Sky Stadium, High St in Petone, Warspite Ave in Porirua, Taita, Tawa and central city locations.
The crew used local suppliers and featured local brands where possible, and Nua tapped into his strong Tawa Rugby Club links to use its rugby jerseys in the film.
While performing at the Rugby World Cup with his church band was an unforgettable experience, making Red, White and Brass for his family and community has so far been the highlight of Nua’s life. And he says Red, White and Brass has an aspirational message about what can be achieved when you believe.
Nua’s wish to inspire the next generation of Tongan creatives is already being fulfilled. Hundreds of children from schools with large Pasifika rolls in Te Whanganui-a-Tara, Tāmaki Makaurau, Ōtautahi and Ōtepoti are getting a chance to see Red, White and Brass for free and are being given resources and information on the film.
The Square Eyes Film Foundation and Aotearoa Tongan Teachers’ Association Inc have organised the screenings, supported by Wellington UNESCO City of Film, the New Zealand Film Commission and Kiwibank.
Four interns involved in another initiative to help support and contribute to a more diverse, inclusive and sustainable local screen industry have also worked on Red, White and Brass.
They were part of an intern programme run by Wellington UNESCO City of Film and the Ministry for Social Development.
Meanwhile, Wellington production company Miss Conception Films is proud of its involvement with Red, White and Brass.
Associate producer Georgina Calder says the company’s ethos is to help amplify marginalised voices and support them through producing quality screen productions.
“There was an incredible willingness and excitement from everyone involved in making the movie and it was great to see Wellington properly on screen, you get a real sense of the city.”