"Tongan Ark is a film about tiny islands and big ideas. It takes us to ‘Atenisi, a poor but vibrant university in the Kingdom of Tonga, where the veteran philosopher and opera buff Futa Helu and his talented but eccentric staff teach Greek philosophy alongside Polynesian dance, and advocate both freedom of thought and a concern for tradition.
Helu founded his school to help reform Tongan society, and his work as a social critic has earned him the nickname the ‘Socrates of Tonga’. But when a riot erupts outside the school gates, the crises of contemporary Tonga become the crises of ‘Atenisi. State repression, poverty, and violence all threaten the future of Futa Helu’s school.
Tongan Ark's world premiere received a standing ovation at Auckland's Sky City Theatre in August 2012 as part of the New Zealand International Film Festival. The full house was treated to a post-film show by a huge group of performers from 'Atenisi University and the historical fofo'anga (kava circle singers) that Futa Helu helped to found. The guest of honour was Hon. Salote Lupepau'u Tuita who graciously received a ceremonial cup of kava from the people.
Many of Futa Helu’s lesser known writings have recently been archived online for continued study bu the public: futahelu-archives.org/pub.html