Out of one jungle into another

Normal, Weekender

Performer Jeffrey Konia is among a large number of entertainers in PNG that need exposure without exploitation, writes MARTIN TONNY

THIS is a story of a talented young man who left school at Grade 11 because of financial difficulties. It is a success story of someone who craves self exploration and discovery and has the courage to not give up. His name is Jeffery Konia and he’s employed as a scaffolder with Dock Yard Ltd.
It began in 2004 when a group of us got together to form a dance troupe. We decided that the dance troupe should be called Cont – Cho Freelance. This simply means contemporary choreography. Our aim was to give dancing in PNG a different dimension by popularising the style and rhythms of PNG dances for modern stages.
We realised that there was a tendency for people to get bored when they frequently see our traditional dances. We set out to offer a new style, not only in dancing but also to see, hear and appreciate the beauty and creativity of our garamut and kundu.
In 2005, the troupe was invited to participate at the Japan world exposition in Aichi. We decided that the young boys we hang around with at Hohola Burns Peak block should be involved, we believed that if we can give exposure to at least a handful, they would in turn positively influence their peers.
Jeffery Konia was brought in to rehearse with the troupe. The type of dances the troupe was doing was all new for him. But his commitment was admirable.
He did extremely well among the troupe of 15 and earned his ticket to the world exposition in Japan. After returning from the world exposition, he continued performing with the troupe. He drifted sometimes as the demands  started getting to him.
Again, he was lucky when the troupe secured another trip to the Pacific Arts festival in American Samoa in 2007. After the second trip, he became more focused. He got himself a full-time job. He was faced with the challenges of managing his income and was beginning to get a grip of that reality when German film producers came to PNG seeking people to audition for a film called Jungle Child to be shot in Malaysia.
Jeffrey jumped at the opportunity to audition. On Jan 15 this year the casting agent called to inform me that Jeffery was selected to play the warrior in the film Jungle Child.
I thanked the agent and relayed the good news to Jeffery who was over the moon. His family cheered and congratulated him.
To begin dancing to entertain and to do it as an art work was a jungle of its own for Jeffery Konia. He came to rehearsals tone deaf. He started dancing with us awkwardly as it was all new and a journey he had never anticipated taking.
The process of self discovery began for him then. He mastered the dance movements and made sure his body owned the movements and it is reflected continuously in performances. He is now selected to go to Malaysia to participate in a movie which we hope will raise his status and profile to achieve higher goals.
He will be a role model when he returns in three months time to share his experiences with his peers. Jeffery Konia became knowledgeable with his own jungle of performance in just over four years and he now will know the jungle on the other side in the Jungle Child movie   
There are gaps for Papua New Guineans to fill as a country in relation to the art and entertainment industry and this should be spearheaded by the National Cultural Commission. All rights for the movie were forfeited to the film company when each of the 80 cast members signed their contract. This means re-using and or reproductions of images, voice over’s and so forth will not reap any royalty for any of the cast members. The last thing we want is for Papua New Guinean talent to be exploited because there is no push for legislation to protect them in this regard.
PNG in this instance is not a novice. Movies have been made and produced in country under the stewardship of National Cultural Commission. Apparently lessons were never learnt or attempts were never made to correct or regulate the industry.
There is always the excuse that there is not enough money. But the National Cultural Commission should add flair and creativity to make the Government realise that those in the industry need exposure without exploitation.