"Awakening and Enlightening"
What You Need To Know:
LUPE FAALELE: SOARING DOVES is a documentary about the Christian culture on the island nation of Samoa, near New Zealand. The Samoan clergy have enormous power and too often used to perpetuate massive abuse on Samoan Christians. Pastors demand the best of everything Samoan Christians have to offer, including money, service and food. Donations made by these Christians are linked to salvation and often are used to support extravagant building projects and cushy lifestyles for the pastors. Writer and Director Daniel Pouesi explores this abuse and the deep faith of the abused Samoan Christians.
SOARING DOVES is personal, human and fascinating. Some of the storytelling choices are confusing, and it’s not always easy to follow the flow of the scenes. However, the gripping firsthand accounts of abuse by clergy redeem some of this messy storytelling. There are some really good moments. For example, the juxtaposition of images is especially good. SOARING DOVES is deeply Christian, even though it’s a critique of Samoan pastors. There is some discussion of sexual abuse and violence, which may not be appropriate for young viewers.
When people think of the word “Samoa,” they probably think of the coconut-and-chocolate cookie that is sold in those purple boxes by the Girl Scouts of America. However, Writer and Director Daniel Pouesi’s documentary about Samoa is not about cookies; instead, it’s a look at the religious culture on a small island nation, Samoa, which is near New Zealand.
Pouesi’s documentary is titled LUPE FAALELE: SOARING DOVES. This is the title given to pastors in the Samoan church. The movie is largely a rebuke of these pastors and the toxic culture they bring into Samoan life. Yet, while it critiques pastors, SOARING DOVES is a deeply Christian movie.
How can these two things both be true?
In the Samoan church, pastors have enormous power. One of the movie’s main themes of the movie is how Samoan Christians often treat their pastors like gods, and how dangerous this can be. Congregations believe these men are sent and directed solely by God, which means their behavior and decisions can’t be held to the same standards as ordinary people. A pastor’s relationship with his church is described as being like a father to his child. The child can’t understand the decisions made by the father. Therefore, the child must not rebuke the father.
This power dynamic has led to massive and widespread abuse within much of the Samoan clergy. Samoan Christians are expected to provide the best of everything, including money, service, food, to their pastors. Often congregations are told that their generous support of their pastor and church are crucial to their salvation. Even poor Samoan citizens must give away much of their meager earnings to sustain extravagant building projects and a wealthy lifestyle for their pastors. Clergy in Samoa occupy the top 1% of wage earners.
Pouesi’s documentary about the abuse perpetuated by Samoan clergy on Samoan Christians is enlightening. He boldly brings light to real stories of real Christians who have suffered sexual, monetary and psychological abuse at the hands of their pastors, the people they trust the most. The people he has found to provide firsthand accounts of this abuse are articulate, honest and deeply faithful. They are interesting narrators of their stories, and the audience feels deeply for the hardships they’ve endured.
The storytelling decisions made by Pouesi and his team are occasionally confusing, leaving the audience scrambling to understand how each scene relates to the last. However, in the broader sweep of the movie, the structure is well crafted. Pouesi guides the audience down a dark road into the abuses of the clergy while simultaneously showing the light of Jesus Christ. Some of Pouesi’s editing choices are brilliant, such as an opening montage which juxtaposes scenes of Samoan farmers working hard with Samoan clergy playing golf at an upscale country club.
Aliitasi Ioselani Pouesi is the main narrator for LUPE FAALELE: SOARING DOVES and her narration is perhaps the movie’s weakest point. It is often flat and delivered without much inflection. However, this is overcome by the generous use of firsthand accounts and titles on screen.
The movie’s core is deeply Christian. It would be all too easy for director Pouesi to paint the whole of the church with the sins of the Samoan clergy. It would be easy to portray Samoan Christians as foolish, willing followers of an abusive religion. Instead, Pouesi takes the harder, more subtle road. His story is not about an abusive Christianity, but about sinful men who have twisted the loving, generous spirit of true Christianity into justification for their own greed. The Christians in his movie are deeply faithful, and they are abused because of their deep faith.
There are many scenes of bare-chested men in SOARING DOVES, and several discussions of sexual abuse and rape. There are also some scenes where violence is discussed and even reenacted, though they aren’t graphic. These conversations around sexual abuse and violence may not be appropriate for young children. However, the documentary is great discussion material for teenagers and adults, and it would work well as a topic for small groups or even family devotions.