This lyrical documentary inducts us into the surprising world of Tongan Futa Helu and his Atenisi Institute. Probably the world’s smallest university, this unconventional institution proudly stands apart from church and state.
Screened as part of NZIFF 2012
Paul Janman’s lyrical documentary inducts us into the surprising world of Futa Helu and his ‘Atenisi Institute, an unconventional Tongan institution that proudly stands apart from church and state. Polynesian and classical European cultures entwine in what is probably the world’s smallest and poorest university, built on the swampy outskirts of Nuku’alofa. It is a place that prides itself on freedom of expression and thought, but also a place of rigorous devotion to a very purist notion of education, based on the teachings of the ancient Greek philosophers whom its founder valued above all. The Institute has fallen on tough times of late; among the crumbling buildings students are sometimes outnumbered by the stray dogs and pigs that wander the campus. It has survived due to the fundraising efforts of the school’s performing arts troupe, who specialise in another of Futa’s great loves: classical Italian opera. As Futa’s health declines, the burden of preserving the school falls increasingly on his somewhat hesitant family and the school’s eccentric faculty. — MM