The National, Friday 7th September, 2012
HOW do you honour a man who has devoted a huge portion his life to filming Papua New Guinea’s tremendous cultural diver¬sity, assisting others also in¬volved in such activities and teaching others to do like¬wise?
Anyone familiar with film¬making in PNG for the last forty odd years knows that the person concerned is Chris Owen.
On 30 August, the PNG High Commissioner to Aus¬tralia, Charles Lepani, pre¬sented a medal to Owen in Canberra. He did so, on be¬half of the Governor General of PNG, Grand Chief Sir Mi¬chael Ogio, and by command of Her Majesty, Queen Eliza¬beth II.
Chris was made an Officer of the Order of Logohu (OL) “for services to the commu¬nity through his significant contribution over 37 years in the documentation in films of PNG’s rich cultural diver¬sity and the social participa¬tion in the different levels of the country’s traditional and modern values.”
Chris Owen was born in Birmingham, United King¬dom. Attending school in both the UK and Australia, he eventually studied at Birmingham College of Art and Design, and obtained a Graduate Diploma in Visual Communication (photojour¬nalism/cinematography) in 1971. After returning to Aus¬tralia for a couple years, he came to PNG as a cinema¬tographer, sound recordist, creative photographer, and display artist with the Tourist Board in 1973-75.
In 1976 he joined the newly established Institute of Papua New Guinea Stud¬ies (IPNGS) as the resident filmmaker. He was tasked with designing and initiating an ethnographic filmmaking programme, documenting and preserving Melanesian culture on film, and provid¬ing professional training for Papua New Guinean film¬makers.
He remained at IPNGS un¬til 2000 when he transferred to Goroka to eventually be¬come the Director of the Na¬tional Film Institute (NFI). In addition to the tasks he had at IPNGS, Chris now also had to rebuild the NFI, which had been destroyed by fire in 1996, when it was called Skul bilong Wokim Piksa.
He also mentored a team of Melanesian filmmakers, and worked to protect the na¬tion’s contemporary history on moving images. Chris re¬mained at NFI in Goroka un¬til medical conditions forced him to retire in July 2010.
Chris is the filmmaker of some of the most well-known and respected films concern¬ing the people of PNG, in-cluding: The Red Bowmen, Gogodala: A Cultural Reviv¬al?, Malangan Labadama: A Tribute to Buk Buk, Tukana: Husat i Asua?, Man without Pigs, Bridewealth for a God¬dess, Lukautim Bus, Betelnut Bisnis, and Kirapim Wok Piksa Hia long PNG. There are many more.
In addition to his own films, Chris has collabo¬rated with other local and overseas filmmakers as cin¬ematographer, line producer, sound recordist, editor, and/ or script advisor. This has included work in such films as: Yumi Yet, Angels of War, The Sharkcallers of Kontu, First Contact, Anthropology on Trial, Cowboy and Maria, Cannibal Tours, Joe Leahy’s Neighbours, Black Harvest, Napalunga, and Strong Con¬nections, among many oth¬ers.
Chris’s filmmaking has never been about simply do¬ing his job. It is safe to say that just about his whole life revolves around filmmaking. This is not just dedication, this is total commitment-the kind of involvement very few people give to any aspect of their lives.
Chris presently lives in Canberra, where archival restoration and preservation of Papua New Guinea’s her¬itage on film and video re¬mains at the core of his ongo¬ing concerns. This includes the national repatriation of digital copies of all PNG-related film and television artefacts held in overseas in¬stitutions.
PNG filmmaker Martin Maden has said of Chris: “I do not know of one other culture whose children will inherit a film heritage such as the one Chris Owen has given to the people of Papua New Guinea.”
Frequently honoured over¬seas with awards for his film¬making, it was absolutely ap¬propriate that he be officially acknowledged here as well.
Chris’s name was listed amongst those people re¬ceiving 2011 New Year’s honours. However, he was unable to attend the investi¬ture ceremony to receive his medal because of his medical condition, and it was unclear when he would be able to travel to Port Moresby again.
For this reason, his award was sent to the High Com¬mission in Canberra to be presented there.
All of his colleagues here and internationally are thrilled that Papua New Guinea has decided to hon¬our Chris in this way. There is no one more deserving of recognition for such extraor¬dinary, long-lasting contribu¬tions.
Mipela i amamas long yu, Chris!
Dr Don Niles is Acting Di¬rector and Senior Ethnomu¬sicologist of the Institute of Papua New Guinea Studies. He is honoured to be Chris’s colleague and friend.