May 25, 2023

MFA Graduate Brings Pasifika Voices to SCA with Thesis Film

By Benjamin Pola

Peter Filimaua, MFA in Film & Television Production '23

As Peter Filimaua ’23 reached the final year of his MFA program in Film and Television Production, he saw an opportunity to bring his Samoan heritage to the forefront and to the big screen — a culture that is often pigeonholed to narratives of brute athleticism in mainstream media . With his graduate thesis film, FILI, Filimaua aims to shatter stereotypes and illuminate the richness of the Samoan culture.

FILI tells the compelling coming-of-age story of Fili Tanuvasa, a gifted Samoan football player facing a crucial decision. Fresh out of high school, he stands at a crossroad, torn between following in his father's footsteps on the football field or pursuing his hidden passion for acting.

Drawing from his own experiences as a Samoan American, Filimaua infuses the film with his personal journey, challenging the notion that mainstream success for Pasifika communities is solely tied to sports. Through this film, he was able to showcase  the boundless possibilities that lie beyond the realm of athletics, emphasizing the values of family, community, and respect that lie at the core of Samoan culture.

Still image from FILI, Filimaua's graduate thesis film. 

Growing up, Filimaua recalls his dad making him play football, stating, “… it was a tradition — he played, my uncles played, my cousins… some professionally, but pretty much all the guys in my family play.” Filimaua, whose mother is an educator and father a business man, recalls being thankful for his parents’ support after his decision to quit football. “I know a lot of people whose parents aren’t supportive and force them to play, thinking football is their only ticket out” says Filimaua.

Now also supported by his  SCA classmates, dedicated faculty members, and the local community, Filimaua forged ahead, undeterred by the inevitable obstacles of any production, but more specifically in this instance, casting. Filimaua’s non-negotiable for this project was casting a Samoan lead, which was no easy task and required a tremendous amount of research and networking. The Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment (CAPE) also played a vital role, providing crucial funding that allowed this first-of-its-kind SCA film to come to fruition.

FILI made SCA history as the School’s first Samoan centered film, written and directed by a Samoan student, with an all Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) cast. The film took center stage this May, during the heart of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, premiering to a full house in Norris Theater on May 14th, 2023.  

Through his 15-minute short, Filimaua invites viewers to embark on a profound journey of self-discovery and cultural appreciation. To delve deeper into the world of FILI and to stay informed about Filimaua's upcoming projects, visit Fight On!