Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air
As South Auckland undergoes a cultural shift with the ongoing development and gentrification of the area, Villa Junior Lemanu recalls his youth and upbringing through song, dance and spoken word to celebrate and immortalise his memories of his hometown.
Originally a dance-theatre play, Atali’i o le Crezent (Sons of the Crezent) has been adapted into a short film by Irish director Brendan Canty. The pair met when Brendan attended one of Villa’s showcases and was “absolutely blown away” by his performance.
Villa says, “with him being Irish, we talked a great deal about how, even though the work we created was specific to South Auckland, the themes were universal, and it resonated with him as well.”
The origins of Atali’i o le Crezent came from a reaction to a phone call Villa received from his sister during the 2020 lockdown. Villa’s sister notified him about a pamphlet going around their neighbourhood about housing developments and how it could affect some family’s homes.
“I remember at the time feeling worried about whether it would affect my family and their house. All my memories growing up are in that house and it saddened me and made me feel scared to lose it.”
Struck by the thought of losing his childhood home, Villa scrambled for ideas on how to immortalise his memories of South Auckland and in a way, pay homage to the community that raised him to be the man that he is today.
Originally, the script was created for five male leads which included emerging performing artists Haanz Fa’avae Jackson, Phoenix Puleanga, Kardia Ah Kiau and Alfred Lilo. But, due to Covid-19 restrictions, the script was rewritten, and some hard calls were made on the week of shooting.
The short film is an intimate and vulnerable lens into Villa’s emotions of fearing his family leaving the house he grew up in. The concept of acting as himself felt foreign to him, he even describes it as “liberating, but vulnerable”.
“Inviting a camera crew over to film in the place in which I grew up in felt like a scalpel outlining the edges of my heart, like an operation.”
With only 10-mins to spare, Atali’i o le Crezent (Sons of the Crezent) is a kaleidoscopic blend of emotions, vulnerability, longing, and nostalgia. The title itself reflects Villa’s reminiscences of his youth and his parents.
“I liked the idea of [the title] starting in Samoan and ending in English which to me reflected the migration of my parents from Samoa to New Zealand in the 80s,” Villa explains.
“The spelling of crezent was intentional. I use the word ‘crescent’ in reference to Firth Crescent, the street I grew up in. When I was at Wymondley Road Primary School, I was really infatuated with spelling words in a different way… and so I brought that into the spelling of crezent as an inside joke.”
Villa believes now is an exciting time to be a Pasifika storyteller as the community are wanting more.
“I honestly wanted to create it and perform it to Pasifika audiences because of the core message of the work. But it’s interesting having conversations with Brendan, who’s from Cork, Ireland who watches it and feels moved in the same way because it’s similar to the feeling he has in his hometown.”
When the duo received the news that their short film would premiere at the Show Me Shorts Festival, Villa recalled the excitement of it all.
“I remember receiving the news and getting so hyped by it that I just dropped down and did some push ups.”
With Brendan in Ireland, the pair won’t be able to celebrate together in person but they are excited for viewers to see their short film.
The launch of Atali’i o le Crezent (Sons of the Crezent) will take place next month. To book tickets visit here.