Sundance film, ‘Lea Tupu’anga Mother Tongue,’ highlights Tongan culture and language

Jan 29, 2024, 10:21 AM | Updated: 10:22 am

PARK CITY — Utah’s Tongan community is embracing a film featured at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. It focuses on their language and cultural identity.

KSL TV spoke to filmmakers about their journey to the big screen.

“Lea Tupu’anga Mother Tongue” is a short film about a speech therapist who feels disconnected from her Tongan culture because she doesn’t speak the language. Luciane Buchanan wrote and stars in the film.

As a psychology student, she was inspired by a study she conducted.

“It was about a Samoan woman who was bilingual and had a stroke and could only retain her Samoan language,” Buchanan said.

Buchanan identifies with her character.

The New Zealand actress is half Tongan and half Scottish and does not speak Tongan.

“Even my grandma who passed two years ago, she acquired dementia and her language skills just got smaller and smaller,” she said. “And we had this kind of ‘tonglish’ that we had with each other.”

She teamed up with Tongan director Vea Mafile’o, who is also from New Zealand.

The two never imagined the Sundance Film Festival would select their short film out of 17,000 applicants from around the world.

“The reaction from the audience was quite surprising and really great to know that it’s a story that transcends culture,” Mafile’o said.

Although the movie highlights Tongan culture and language, Mafile’o says all audiences can relate to its main message of love and connection.

“You are not less than. You are not less than Tongan. If you don’t know your language because at the end of the day, there’s so many ways to show love.”

KSL 5 TV Live

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Sundance film, ‘Lea Tupu’anga Mother Tongue,’ highlights Tongan culture and language