“That was the best thing of the whole trying to get to the Olympics, to walk into the Opening Ceremony carrying the Tongan flag, that was the best thing ever, I was so happy and proud of it.”
Being Bruno Banani star Bruno Banani sat down to talk about the new documentary set to open this year’s Pasifika Film Fest in Sydney. The first Pacific Islander to qualify for the winter games as far as Banani understands, the remarkable story of the luge competitor has been quite fairly compared to the classic flick Cool Runnings and Jamaica’s famous bobsled team.
“They couldn’t believe it,” said Banani of his friends and family. “Like everyone else they couldn’t believe that I would make it to the Olympics and they were so happy.”
Now in Germany to promote the film, Banani’s very unusual journey began a long time ago much closer to home.
“It started in Tonga, I heard on the radio that they were looking for someone to represent Tonga at luge… we didn’t have any idea what luge was and they said they were looking for someone with height and speed and I knew it would be fun,” said Banani. “At first I wanted to do it without any protection but they told me to use the helmet, it was not that scary at that time, it was fun and when I got here it looks totally different as well as the speed and how fast it was – so I liked it and I continued doing it.”
“I saw snow for the first time when I got to Germany in 2009, I don’t know how to explain, it was totally different. Back in Tonga you only feel the cold when you’re in a freezer or something – it was a big experience for me to see and touch the snow for the first time.”
Relocating to Germany to train, Banani’s Olympic ambitions didn’t quite start off as planned.
“We tried so hard to get to the Olympics in 2010 but it didn’t work out, I missed out by one point on qualifying and I decided to continue on and try for the 2014 Olympic games,” said Banani, also a keen Rugby player. “I grew up playing sports in Tonga so I’m used to training but to train with the cold and wet that was the hard part, and to do totally different sports. When I did it on the very first day, when I sat down on the sled, I really liked it and enjoyed it and I just enjoyed doing all the training even though it was hard sometimes.”
“They recorded a lot of material of the hours of me doing the sport from the beginning until the Olympic Games, and there’s a lot of stuff there that I didn’t remember until I saw it in the movie. The nice thing about the movie is that it really tells the whole story, how it came about, it’s a documentary so everything was just how it was.”
Banani’s story has also attracted notoriety of a different kind, with his having famously changed his name to a German brand, becoming in effect the first ever living brand and ultimately not running afoul of the Olympic sponsorship guidelines.
“The name, it was a big thing from the beginning,” said Banani. “The name change, it was not just my idea to change my name, I talked with my parents and family and we all agreed.”
Banani himself will be making a special appearance at the screening and Festival opening night, where he hopes to showcase the film to the local Tongan and Pacific Islander communities. A version of Being Bruno Banani with Tongan translation is also in the works.
“Yes I’m very excited,” said Banani of his upcoming trip. “For me it’s about spreading the story in a motivational way to the kids for whatever goal they want… I’m so happy and looking forward to being in Sydney.”
The Pasifika Film Fest will screen in Sydney from Nov 2-6 and in Brisbane from Nov 10-13, 2016