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Patutiki: The Guardians of Marquesan Tattoo

The stories etched on their Polynesian skin document this micro-nation’s culture and history. Unlike other Polynesian societies, Marquesans created a vocabulary and an art by which to tell their people’s story. In 1920, 97% of their population decimated, only 2000 survived. With tattoo declared illegal by church and state, the last of the “black-skinned” elders found unique ways to guard their dying people’s precious history. Witness through the lens of first-time filmmakers how their remote Southern Pacific islander people rediscover and celebrate their nearly lost identity by uncovering the cultural puzzles left behind through patutiki, the multi-faceted significance of Marquesan tattoo.

This is the first feature created by a native Marquesan.

For festivals preferring the native Marquesan language, a version with English subtitles is also available.

  • Christophe Cordier
  • Heretu Tetuhiotupa
  • Christophe Cordier
  • Heretu Tetuhiotupa
  • Michael Alezrah
  • Nelly Decuyper
  • Christophe Cordier
  • Heretu Tetuhiotupa
  • Sydelia Guirao
  • Association Patutiki
  • Sisa Grey
    Key Cast
    "Narrator, Female voices"
  • Joe Fanene
    Key Cast
    "Male Voices"
  • Loa Greyson
    Key Cast
    "Male Voices"
  • Project Title (Original Language):
    Patutiki: L'Art du Tatouage des Iles Marquises
  • Project Type:
  • Genres:
    Ethnological, Indigenous, non-fiction, historical, Polynesian
  • Runtime:
    55 minutes 13 seconds
  • Completion Date:
    January 1, 2020
  • Production Budget:
    422,898 EUR
  • Country of Origin:
    French Polynesia
  • Country of Filming:
    French Polynesia
  • Language:
    English, French, Samoan
  • Shooting Format:
    Digital UHD
  • Aspect Ratio:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
  • International Oceanic Documentary Film Festival
    French Polynesia
    February 5, 2019
    World Premiere (Native Language Version)
    General Public Prize
  • Maoriland Film Festival Official Selection
    New Zealand
    March 22, 2020
    Premiering Outside Country of Origin
    Official Selection, Feature Documentary
  • Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival
    Los Angeles
    United States
    Official Selection
Director Biography - Christophe Cordier, Heretu Tetuhiotupa

Heretu Tetahiotupa
"When I tell people where I’m from, they don’t know the Marquesas Islands, yet they have our tattoos." Born as far away from television and the movies as one could possibly be in 1992, Heretu grew up in a Polynesian paradise, a secluded bay with no cars, little electricity, no TV or video; a place time marked by the passing seasons of mango and breadfruit, by tropical bird migrations and summer storms; a place where it was just as easy to fish for dinner or hunt wild pig and goat than it was to walk or horseback over the volcanic ridge into the neighboring village.

Raised in the midst of a Marquesan cultural renaissance, surrounded by rediscovered music, dance, sculpting, tapa, and tattoo, Heretu was particularly drawn to music. He was eventually introduced to television, mostly Tahitian news, broadcasts of old French and American episodics, and evening movies. He decided to learn to make television. His stint as an editor with Tahiti News eventually taught him the skills needed to produce, direct, shoot and edit several short films. In 2012, his short, Make the Kitchen Groove, won prizes for Best Screenplay, Best Film and the Jury Prize at Tahiti’s Vini Film Festival. In 2015, he co-directed the short film Hakamanu (Bird Dance), revealing the grace and power of this ancient Marquesan dance of courtship. Presented in 2016 at France’s Rochefort Film Festival, Hakamanu was broadcast over French television that same year. Telling the story of Patutiki was a natural next step, aiding his people in efforts to reclaim their traditions.

Christophe Cordier
How does a young Frenchman combine his love for exotic cultures, guitar playing, and photography? From Paris, Christophe enlisted as a middle-school music teacher for French Overseas Territories, got assigned to various nations, immersed himself in each nation’s culture, found and developed a local band, composed their music, produced their first albums, made music videos, propelling the group and their music into local champions. But neither South America’s French Guyana nor the Indian Ocean’s island of Reunion captivated him as much as the South Pacific’s Marquesas. Just as with painter Paul Gauguin and singer Jacques Brel before him, Christophe felt compelled to capture and share with the world the essence of this extraordinary culture and its generous, simple people. So while producing the Marquesan band, Takanini, he met young musician and filmmaker, Heretu Tetahiotupa. They soon discovered a shared purpose, sealing their bond and giving birth to their production company, Eka Eka. Patutiki, their first collaboration and for each their first documentary, won this year’s International Oceanic Documentary Film Festival’s (FIFO) Audience Prize.

Add Director Biography
Director Statement

English language Voice Over mix complete (stereo & 5.1), UHD conform and color-correction complete

Heretu Tetahiotupa: “People’s attraction to Marquesan tattoo is mostly aesthetic, but there’s much more to patutiki than its distinctive designs. We wanted people to become aware of the spiritual dimension and how each motif was a key to understanding how the ancients perceived the world. People are drawn to these symbols without knowing why. The Marquesans see patutiki as a magical manifestation of their predecessors’ past. For more than a thousand years, master tattoo artists and shamans connected to the spirit of our ancestors, re-created rituals transferring mana every time they practiced their art.”

Christophe Cordier: “With Marquesan tattoo motifs becoming more and more popular among the global tattooing community, we wanted first to give credit where credit was due. But more than that, we wanted people to understand how patutiki helped preserve a people’s dying culture. Heretu and I felt compelled to document this important connection.”