This weekend at the Breckenridge Film Festival, local filmmaker Connie “Paprika” Leaverton will debut the final cut of her film “Hiko in Tonga – A Culture Almost Lost,” a documentary 8 years in the making.

In the film, Leaverton, a juggler and magician with the Salida Circus who lives in Buena Vista, traveled to the Polynesian kingdom of Tonga to learn about a unique culture of juggling practiced exclusively by women, known in the local language as Hiko.

Tongan jugglers have been documented by outsiders dating back to when the islands were visited by British explorer James Cook in the 1700s, Leaverton said.

But most accounts of Hiko “have never really done anything to explain what it is,” Leaverton said.

“It’s only women. The men don’t juggle,” she said. They only juggle green tree nuts roughly the size of limes in one pattern, and have broken world records, she said.

“There are legends of beyond world-record status,” Leaverton said. “Eight is the world record, and they were doing eight balls (in the air) in the 1950s.”

Keeping eight balls in the air at once means that the balls are traveling as high in the air as a three-story building, she said.

Hiko, however, is becoming less popular in Tonga.

“It’s a vanishing culture,” Leaverton said. “There used to be competitions. It was a big deal.”

Now, she said, some Tongans she spoke to for the film said that the developing country simply doesn’t have the money to organize events around Hiko.

“I’m just on a mission to keep Hiko alive,” she said.

Leaverton screened a rough cut last year at the Salida SteamPlant. After taking feedback and touching up the film, she’ll debut “Hiko in Tonga” this weekend in Breckenridge.

Leaverton said the film had also been accepted to the World Film Fest in Los Angeles in November.

Learn more about Leaverton’s film at hikofilm.com

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