Tagata Pasifika

The Pacific voice on
New Zealand television
since 1987

Tagata Pasifika

The Pacific voice on
New Zealand television
since 1987

Tonga’s Red Sea fandom set to rise again with the making of ‘Kingdom of Kings’

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

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Alice Lolohea | Reporter/Director/Videographer

Story-telling and rugby have always been near and dear to Tongan filmmaker Sebastian Hurrell. 

But growing up in the village of Ma’ufanga, his memories of playing the sport didn’t involve a rugby ball at all. 

“I remember playing rugby as a kid in Tonga, playing with just a jandal or a plastic bottle cause’ nobody had a rugby ball,” he laughs.

“If you were really lucky somebody might have a tennis ball you could use.”

The combination of his two passions has culminated in his latest project “Kingdom of Kings”, a documentary following the journey of the Ikale Tahi, as they work their way towards the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

It is set to be an interesting tournament this year. With the new eligibility rules in place, many Pacific players who once donned the jerseys of New Zealand, Australia or England are now ready to wear the colours of their Pasifika heritage.

Photo: Kingdom of Kings FB

Malakai Fekitoa, Charles Piutau and Augustine Pulu, are a few who have already taken up the Ikale Tahi mantle.

When the new rules were announced, Hurrell immediately thought, “this is gonna be good for us.”

“Maybe we can have a crack at the top teams and it might be a bit more of a level playing field. So that’s when I got the idea [for the film].” 

Hurrell approached the Tonga Rugby Union (TRU) and Ikale Tahi coach Toutai Kefu and shared what his vision of a documentary would be.

While the TRU were interested, Hurrell wasn’t quite sure if he had the all-clear to start filming. The Ikale Tahi were set to play in Bucharest last November, and on a wing and a prayer, Hurrell decided to follow them to Europe.

“I grabbed myself one of my friends – Greg Parker, who’s a brilliant director of photography, and I grabbed Charles Richelmann, ex-All Black, – we’re cuzzies from the same road,” he says.

“We didn’t know if they were gonna accept us, if we were gonna have access to the team or anything because communication with Toutai and Peter Harding (CEO of Tonga Rugby) was a bit sporadic.

“We just went to Romania and turned up kind of going ‘please let us make a documentary.’ So that’s how it all began.”

So far, filming Kingdom of Kings has revealed some of the obvious differences between Tier One and Tier Two nations, in that “it isn’t a level playing field at all.”

“Tier One nations have so much more money, bigger populations, sponsorships, all that kind of thing – Pacific Islands don’t have that,” Hurrell laments.

“They just don’t have the money and they don’t have the infrastructure to give these players what they need to perform at top level. That’s why they all end up overseas.” 

Greens MP Teanau Tuiono plants a new tree on the coastline of Ha’atafu nin Tonga. Photo: Gladys Hartson

There are a number of other stories and issues which Hurrell is keen to explore in the film, including climate change.

According to the United Nations, Tonga is currently ranked as the world’s third “most at risk” country to the effects of climate change. 80% of the kingdom’s population live along the coastlines, making them more vulnerable to rising sea levels.

For Hurrell, a visit to Tongatapu’s Pangaimotu made him realise how devastating the impacts of climate change would be. 

“I went walking around [Pangaimotu] and I was really shocked when I got to the back of the island,” Hurrell recalls.

“The tide was high and I had to wade across – three or four years ago, you could still walk around the island without getting your feet wet.

“I had a chat with all the people I was with and I asked, ‘is this because of the volcano and tsunami?’ But they said no, that’s tidal rising, that’s been happening for a few years now.

“I’ve been going there since I was a baby and you’re telling me this island’s gonna be gone in my lifetime? It really hit me deep.

So we’ll be pursuing this further when we go back to Tonga in July.”

The team are currently running a Boosted campaign to raise funds for the film’s production. If you’d like to donate to the Kingdom of Kings campaign, click here

Quotes have been edited for length and clarity.



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