Directors / Producers: Robin Anderson & Bob Connolly
Production Co.: Arundel Productions
Associate Producer: Chris Owen
Cinematography: Bob Connolly
Editors: Ray Thomas, Robin Anderson & Bob Connolly
Sound: Robin Anderson
Sound Editor: Ray Thomas
Sound Mixing: Gethin Creagh
Joe Leahy
Popina Mai
Joseph Madong
Daniel Leahy
et al.
90 minutes
16 mm
English and Temboka, with English subtitles
Grand Prix, Cinéma du Réel, Paris 1992
Black Harvest is a searching study of a man who finds that he cannot alter the old ways in the life of a clan, cannot convince the people of the necessity for law and order, nor ignore the fact of his and their insignificance in relation to international trade. The film is deeply saddening and forceful, especially since the man in question, Joe Leahy, despite his honourable intentions, finds that he cannot live in his homeland or in his chosen land, Australia...
- Raymond Younis, Cinema Papers, 10/92
Black Harvest is alive with risks, while its common-sense approach to analysis - implicit in some ruthless editing around Joe Leahy in particular - is intellectually stimulating... This brilliant, deeply moving and at times tragic documentary stands as an example of how good documentaries can work to enliven and challenge film watchers.
- Marcus Breen, Cinema Papers, 8/92
Black Harvest, a documentary of extraordinary historical resonance, is the third film by the Australian team of Bob Connolly and Robin Anderson to study the intrusion of modern culture on the Ganiga, an aboriginal tribe in the highlands of Papua New Guinea.
A sequel to their 1989 film. Joe Leahy's Neighbours (q.v.), it focuses on the strained relationship between the Ganiga and Joe Leahy, the half-white, half-aboriginal owner of a flourishing coffee plantation built on land that was sold to him cheaply by the tribe. The team's 1983 film, First Contact, told the story of the foray in the early 1930s by Joe's father into the region, which had never before been visited by whites.
The new film follows Joe Leahy's well-meaning but ultimately disastrous attempt to go into business with the Ganiga. Joe and the tribe have set up what promises to be a successful co-operative coffee-growing business. Under their agreement, Joe will manage the business and reap 60 percent of the profits from his $300,000 investment, and the tribes who supply the labour will earn 40 percent. The arrangement seems to be working until world coffee prices suddenly plunge, and Joe is forced to reduce their wages.
Disgruntled and suspicious, the tribe refuses to pick the crop, even though it is the peak of the harvest. To demonstrate the urgency of the situation, Joe stages a tribal ritual depicting the death of the farm. But instead of appealing to the tribes it deeply offends them. Coincidentally, the Ganiga embark on a frivolous war with a neighbouring tribe. The film's most remarkable scenes were shot in the thick of battle waged with spears and arrows. there are closeup shots of the long-term agony endured by warriors who have arrowheads lodged in their flesh. Although the arrowheads could be removed in a hospital the nearest facility demands $100 in advance (money the Ganiga doesn't have) to treat the wounded.
As relations between Joe and the tribe deteriorate, the war drags on and he is forced to consider leaving his comfortable estate and relocating to the Australian mainland where he has a family.
Black Harvest is so rich that watching it feels like taking an inspired crash course in economics and cultural anthropology. The film, which takes no sides, paints Joe as a fairly sympathetic, though ultimately ambiguous, figure. A businessman who drives a tough bargain and feels so superior to the Ganiga that he won't allow them into his house, he also feels a paternalistic tie to the tribe.
The Ganiga, torn between their tribal traditions and promises of material well-being that are evident from Joe's comfortable style of living, are portrayed as deeply human but also extremely childish. There is something almost laughable in the scenes of the tribe's eager waging of a war that was unprovoked and is carried on with a stubborn zeal that proves devastatingly self-destructive. The fact that its tools are spears and arrows instead of modern high technology weaponry only points up the futility of an activity that looks as ludicrous as a children's game of cowboys and indians except that the war paint is real and people die.
The film's most compelling figure is Popina, the tribal elder who is Joe's assistant and go-between with the Ganiga. After painfully wavering in his loyalty, Popina eventually sides with his people. But in his anguish he deliberately puts himself in the middle of a battle and is seriously wounded.
Black Harvest is all the more remarkable for not having a narrator. Letting the individuals speak for themselves, it presents a disquieting microcosm of civilisation coming apart. Its saddest sight is the crumbling of an opportunity that seemed genuinely golden and based on mutual good will. The immediate cause, the plunging of the coffee market, might just as well be an act of God, for all the influence exerted by the principal players. To the Ganiga, it is an inexplicable act of betrayal. And as their experiment in modern capitalism fails, their reversion to primitive bellicosity seems like a collective childish tantrum that is painfully easy to understand.
- Stephen Holden, The New York Times, 4/4/94