Tonga’s first film bows at Cinequest 

click to enlarge When The Man Went South
  • COurtesy photo
  • “When The Man Went South,” a movie set in Tonga by Bay Area filmmakers, premieres this week at Cinequest in San Jose.
What does it take to make the first movie in and about Tonga? For Alex Bernstein, who did it, the motivation was a general interest in island nations, especially kingdoms, and his own environment.

“Since I grew up around Tongan people, with Tongan friends in San Mateo, early on in my writing I decided to learn as much as I could about Tonga and its oral tradition stories and to set the story there. It just seemed right,” says the writer-director of “When The Man Went South,” which premieres Friday at Cinequest in San Jose. The 24th annual film festival, which runs through March 16, includes 175 films from 43 countries.

Bernstein and four Bay Area friends took off for Tonga, where they cast 18 main roles and 30 smaller parts with nonprofessional actors.

At one point, he says, he “grabbed the island electrician when he stopped by to fix an exposed wire, had him read for a part, and cast him as one of the hunters.”

The crew used the island’s beautiful setting to its best advantage. The ever-present sea, tropical foliage and spectacular sunsets provide a vicarious vacation, when the action (and subtitles) don’t divert viewers’ attention.

Set 200 years in the past, the story follows a young hunter named Flying Fox (Soa Prescott) who goes on a journey and becomes a mediator between warring villages before taking his learning back home, where it is sorely needed.


When The Man Went South

Where: Camera 12, 201 S. Second St., San Jose

When: 7 p.m. Friday and 5:15 p.m. March 13

Tickets: $7 to $10

Contact: (408) 295-3378,

Note: The film also screens at 7 p.m. Monday at San Jose Repertory Theatre, 101 Paseo De San Antonio Walk


A Birder’s Guide to Everything: Two teens go on a road trip in search of a rare bird, in a coming-of-age film featuring Ben Kingsley, Kodi Smit-McPhee, James Le Gros and Katie Chang. (7 p.m. Monday, California Theatre, 345 S. First St., San Jose)

Class Enemy: The drama from Slovenia is about conflict between students and a new teacher, intensified by a student’s seemingly related suicide. (2 p.m. today at Camera 12; noon March 15 at California Theatre)

Funny Money: The social satire from Vietnam hilariously illustrates how the country’s increasingly materialistic lifestyle collides with ancient customs. (9:30 p.m. Saturday, 4:45 p.m. Sunday at California Theatre; 2:45 p.m. March 13 at Camera 12)

The Illiterate: The film from Chile stars Paulina Garcia, award winner for her role in “Gloria,” as a middle-aged woman who resists learning to read until she comes upon a letter her father left her when she was a child. (9:30 p.m. Wednesday at Camera 12; 2:30 p.m. March 15 at San Jose Repertory Theatre)

In Confidence: Director Mitch Levine’s short film is a one-person drama starring Beege Barkette as a women who turns to sex for money. (9:15 p.m. Friday and 3 p.m March 13 at Camera 12; 9:15 p.m. Monday at California Theatre)

Return to Zero: Director Sean Hanish’s drama stars Afred Molina, Paul Adelstein, Kathy Baker and Minnie Driver in a drama about a couple whose expected first child is stillborn. 4:30 p.m. Saturday at California Theatre; 7 p.m. Wednesday at Camera 12)

About The Author

Janos Gereben

Janos Gereben

Janos Gereben is a writer and columnist for SF Classical Voice; he has worked as writer and editor with the NY Herald-Tribune, TIME Inc., UPI, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, San Jose Mercury News, Post Newspaper Group, and wrote documentation for various technology companies.
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