The world is an endlessly complex and fascinating place, and one of the joys of watching and making documentaries is the opportunity to expose people through the medium of film some of the countless diverse cultures and traditions that exist within our own species.
When Buena Vista filmmaker Connie “Paprika” Leaverton showed an ancient tradition of juggling on the Pacific island nation of Tonga that is practiced exclusively by women to a panel of judges at the Golden Gate International Film Festival in San Jose, Calif. last weekend, they awarded her film “Hiko in Tonga” with the festival’s “Best Travel Documentary” award.
Leaverton said the film provoked a strong reaction from several of the women on the festival’s 9-person judging panel, who spoke with her after the screening saying “’We are fascinated at how you got the women to open up to you, we loved seeing how happy they were juggling, we were fascinated that there was a culture of juggling and that it was only women, and we loved how you shared their lives with us,’” Leaverton said.
“’It just made us happy to watch it and inspired us,’” she said.
According to Leaverton’s research for the film, Hiko is a past-time enjoyed by the women of Tonga involving juggling bright green tree nuts that has been documented since the islands were first visited by western explorers in the 1700s.
Some Tongan women can juggle at the level of word-record holders in juggling, said Leaverton, who is also a performer with the Salida Circus.
“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.
Unfortunetely, like many old traditions, interest in Hiko is disappearing, she said.
“I’m very grateful and humbled by the award. I think it’ll be a great way to reach out to the Tongan communities around the world to keep Hiko alive,” she said. “That’s become the goal of my film, and I’m also happy to see how it inspires and empowers people as they watch it.”
Leaverton said that screenings of “Hiko in Tonga” in the Chaffee County area will be forthcoming
“I just love how it accomplished what I set out to do, which was inspiring and empowering especially the women,” Leaverton said.