Vaimoana Tapaleao is the New Zealand Herald's Pacific Affairs and People reporter.

Low-key movie Three Wise Cousins a $1m Pacific hit

Indie film shot on a shoe-string budget set to go global after it takes off with screenings in NZ and Australia.
Vito Vito, Neil Amituana'i and Fesui Viliamu star in Three Wise Cousins. Photo / Supplied
Vito Vito, Neil Amituana'i and Fesui Viliamu star in Three Wise Cousins. Photo / Supplied

An independent film shot on one camera and with a cast of unknown actors has racked up more than $1 million at New Zealand and Australian box offices.

And now its Kiwi-born Samoan director is working to get his first feature film to more audiences across the Pacific and the US.

Aucklander Stallone Vaiaoga-Ioasa is the brains behind hit movie Three Wise Cousins.

Set in Samoa and New Zealand, the film follows a self-proclaimed "plastic" Kiwi Samoan named Adam, who travels to the motherland to learn the way of life after overhearing a girl he likes say she is after "a real island guy".

The journey sees Adam (Kiwi actor Neil Amituana'i) enlisting the help of his cousins Tavita (Fesui Viliamu) and Mose (Vito Vito). They teach him how to climb coconut trees, work a plantation and carry out chores in what is an eye-wateringly funny adventure.

The movie is in its sixth week in New Zealand and has banked more than $700,000 at the box office. It hit Australian screens two weeks ago, reeling in $435,628.

Vaiaoga-Ioasa, 31, is an old boy of Auckland Grammar and has a degree in law and arts from the University of Auckland. Law, however, proved to be "too exciting," he said, so he tapped into a passion for film and has worked in freelance television for the past 10 years.

The idea for the movie came from his own upbringing, which included lectures from his parents about the importance of acknowledging one's roots. Getting an important message across was vital and the only way he felt that could be done was with one key weapon - humour.

It's one camera - just me on the camera ... and the cast and crew holding their own gear. That's it.
Stallone Vaiaoga-Ioasa

"With Three Wise Cousins, the more I sit back and look at it, the more I see how I was raised, up on screen. Just those lessons. For me, if you wanted to get that message out there, it has to be entertaining."

Vaiaoga-Ioasa, whose own island roots are in Puipa'a and Leone, described the making of the film as grassroots. The crew spent a couple of weeks in Samoa, where the majority of the film is set, before filming the rest here.

"It's one camera - just me on the camera ... and the cast and crew holding their own gear. That's it.

"We knew what to shoot and we shot at speed. We definitely aimed to maintain quality, but we did it at speed."

Aucklander Stallone Vaiaoga-Ioasa is the brains behind the movie. Photo / Supplied
Aucklander Stallone Vaiaoga-Ioasa is the brains behind the movie. Photo / Supplied

With no media team, the cast and crew took to Facebook and YouTube with a trailer to advertise the movie. The trailer itself reeled in more than 100,000 views on its first day.

He said getting the film into Kiwi cinemas had been a challenge at the start, with only one exhibitor - Hoyts - agreeing to a few screenings to see how it would fare.

"We knew we just needed one shot. Just that one opportunity to prove ourselves and once we could, it just escalated from there. The growth, the interest and extension just went up - Hoyts opened up more screenings," he laughed.

After a premiere in Samoa last week, the film is now heading to Papua New Guinea, the Cook Islands and Fiji.

Vaiaoga-Ioasa said the support from the public, particularly the Pasifika community, had been overwhelming.

"It's really humbling and as good as the box office [results] are, the real impact is just the feedback that it's cool to be an Islander."

- NZ Herald

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