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Pasifika debut— 'It's a film that everyone can enjoy'

Auckland, NEW ZEALAND — Acclaimed New Zealand-Samoan film director Damon Fepulea'i makes his feature film debut this week with the premiere of Pasifika themed comedy Red, White and Brass.

The film premiered Tuesday night at the Wellington's Embassy Theatre and will make its first Auckland appearance on Wednesday night at the Hoyts Theatre in Sylvia Park.

Set during the 2011 Rugby World Cup, the comedy follows a group of Tongan fans who form a brass band as the pre-game entertainment in a desperate attempt to get tickets.

"It's a film that anyone can enjoy, like you can take the kids to see it, or you can take the uncles and aunties to see it...that's the main thing for me is making a film that everyone can enjoy," said Fepulea'i.

It's a long time coming for Fepulea'i, who has worked in New Zealand's film industry for over 25 years - producing documentaries, music videos and short films.

The director is highly regarded for his work. During his career, he's directed episodes in a number of New Zealand TV shows such as Jono and Ben, Fresh, Mean Mums, and The Market.

"It's pretty surreal, I've done all kinds of things but this is the first feature film that I've ever actually got to direct," said Fepulea'i.

"The process of making this movie was quite long, like we spent maybe a year-and-a-half, writing it and then filming it.

"Because the filming took place during covid times, we had to stop filming and then start again, so it took ages. Then there's the post production process. So yeah, after all the waiting, we are finally getting it out. It was a massive journey."

Fepulea'i took on the film after being offered to direct a movie parodying the true story and antics of co-writer Halaifonua Finau.

In 2011, Finau hastily put together a brass band in a bid to perform in the pre-entertainment to the Rugby World Cup game between Tonga and France in Wellington.

The game was considered one of the biggest upsets in rugby, with Tonga winning 19-14.

The film stars John-Paul Foliaki, who acted in the widely-acclaimed TV Series Panthers.

"Most of the cast hadn't been in a lot of films or TV shows, but came through different performing art schools.

"We didn't have that many people to choose from but the people that we did get to choose were all amazing.

"They picked up things really quickly. Their interactions were natural and they were effortlessly funny as well. They don't try and play funny, they just are."

Fepulea'i hopes his feature film debut is one of many to come for aspiring Pasifika directors and producers, and is optimistic about the next generation of Pasifika talent.

"I've been on a lot of projects where it's just like, you can see the new next generation of talent coming through," he said.

"Hopefully in five or ten years they will see a lot more Pacific directors coming through."

"It's about Pacific people being the ones to tell Pasifika stories, because for a long time it's been told by non-Pasifika directors or writers."