By STEVEN WINDUO
WOVEN stories are featured in indigenous feature films. Storytelling makes use of all the artistic devices available in society. The storyteller is conscious of the need to retell the story as a way of preserving it.
In many Pacific societies, storytelling is already threatened by the written word and the media technologies. Using film as a device for storytelling is critical in that there is preservation of the story as retelling and allows the filmmaker to become the new storyteller.
The film removes the requirement for live audience and environments necessary for storytelling in a traditional Pacific society. Films replicate the storytelling function in a mechanical way to bring into focus the notion that storytelling if done correctly can have a lasting effect on the memory of the viewer.
Storytellers in the traditional sense of the term are slowly disappearing or are being replaced with the new media technologies access through mobile phones and information technologies.
In the last few years a number of films were made in different places around the Pacific Islands.
In the absence of any local film industry Hollywood seized the opportunity to film several feature movies in Papua New Guinea.
In the early mid-1990s Hollywood shot Robinson Crusoe in Madang. The film featured Pierce Brosnan and William Takaku, a local actor from the same place as Albert Toro.
The second film made in Papua New Guinea is Mister Pip (2012) based on the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize book, Mister Pip (2006) by Lloyd Jones, of New Zealand. The book is named after the main character of the book, narrating the storyline shaped by the plot of Charles Dickens’s novel Great Expectations. The film used the civil war on Bougainville as its background.
The filming of Mister Pip took place on Bougainville and New Zealand. Andrew Adamson wrote the film adaptation of the novel, which he also directed. The leading actor was Hollywood star Hugh Laurie. The PNG actors in the film include Francesca Semoso who also played Lucy in Albert Toro’s film Tukana. The movie premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2012
Some of the Papua New Guinean actors in Mister Pip went to act in the German film Dschungelkind/Jungle Child (2011) filmed in Malaysia. “The film is based on real events and it tells the story of Sabine Kuegler’s unusual childhood; a coming-of-age story of a young girl (played by Stella Kunkat) who grew up deep in the jungles of Papua New Guinea” (Georgi 2011).
The uneven environment forces indigenous filmmakers to abandon their dreams of making it into the mainstream film industry.
Another recent development is the highly acclaimed Tanna (2015), a Shakespearean motif of Romeo and Juliet filmed entirely in Vanuatu. In this Martin Butler and Bentley Dean directed film, the Australian directors recruited Ni Vanuatu Marie Wawa and Mangau Dain to star in the film.
The film depicts the true love of a couple who decided to marry against the wishes of their parents. Among the accolades for the film, it was also nominated at the Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film.
These efforts to bring Hollywood to the South Pacific is not a new trend, but has been used in the past to promote a certain kind of Euro-American interests more than it is for the benefit of the Pacific islanders.
For example, as far back as 1958, Hollywood filmed South Pacific following its success as a stage show. The Twentieth Century Fox film was written for the screen by Paul Osbourne based on James A Michener’s book Tales of the South Pacific. It was initially written for the stage as a musical by Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein and Joshua Logan (Crowther 1958).
In recent times the Hollywood took on an indigenous story of Moana and Maui to polarise it to the annoyance of many indigenous Pacific islanders. The appropriation of Indigenous cultural knowledge and truth by Hollywood dislodges and disrupts the continuity of such knowledge.
With the Disney produced Moana, critics have argued that it “ventured into cross-cultural milieus” that highlight the good, bad, and the ugly.
The dominance of mainstream in making a film about the indigenous ancestral world displaces the small, unknown indigenous filmmaker.
From the indigenous filmmaker’s perspective, making a feature film is the most difficult and challenging experience for the indigenous Pacific filmmaker. The mainstream filmmaker has all the resources and networks to make a film as in the production of Moana, Castaway, The Whale Rider, and Mister Pip.
It is an uneven playing field for the indigenous filmmaker in the Pacific.
The interest for filmmaking and talents for making films are in abundance, but the resources and knowledge for making films are some of the major impediments.
Indigenous filmmakers already have the storytelling platform to tell great stories to the world.
By STEVEN WINDUO