“I was told before arriving that I would probably be a ‘sight’ for the village,” James Baldwin wrote of Leukerbad, Switzerland, where he was to stay over the summer of 1951. Being a ‘sight’ meant being the object of endless stares and importunate touches, meant existing, as Baldwin put it in his famous essay ‘Stranger in the Village’, as not human but “simply a living wonder.”
Arriving at Mount Lyford Alpine Resort in Upper Canterbury to shoot Leila (2018), moving-image artist Christopher Ulutupu was reminded of the scenes in Baldwin’s text. “Everyone turned around and stared at us,” Ulutupu says of the moment he and the film’s predominantly Sāmoan cast and crew walked into the resort’s lodge, and into the ‘territory’ of its middle-to-upper- class Caucasian patrons—to whom they were a ‘sight’, and by whom they were made to feel like strangers in the mountains, much as Baldwin had been in Leukerbad.
This experience was the inspiration for Ulutupu’s new film work, which premiered at the Berwick Film and Media Arts Festival (BFMAF) on 4 March this year. The Pleasures of Unbelonging (2023) unfolds through a series of tableaux filmed in Hanmer Springs, imagining moments of arrival in new places and gently interrogating Baldwin’s notion of “people being trapped in history, and history trapped in them.”
Ulutupu is the inaugural recipient of Circuit’s Tagata Moana Moving Image Award, which enabled the commission of this new work with support from Tautai, BFMAF and Creative New Zealand. Circuit and Tautai will partner to present The Pleasures of Unbelonging in Tāmaki Makaurau late this year.