THE NEW GUINEA TRILOGY
1. FIRST CONTACT
2. JOE LEAHY'S NEIGHBOURS
3. BLACK HARVEST
for credits and further information see individual entries
Already considered a classic of ethnographic (or post-ethnographic, depending on your semantic preferences) documentary, this series of three films tracing seven decades of colonialism (or post-colonialism etc...) in Papua New Guinea represents an extraordinary commitment on the part of its makers, Robin Anderson and Bob Connolly. Over a ten-year period the filmmakers observed the interaction between the descendants of Australian colonists and the local tribespeople, attaining a level of intimacy, even invisibility, that will be familiar to admirers of their hilariously candid exposé of local body politics, Rats in the Ranks. The first film of the trilogy, First Contact, employs remarkable archival footage to relate the Leahys' initial encounter with the indigenous highlanders, the Ganiga, in the 1930s. Joe Leahy's Neighbours brought the story up to the mid-eighties. The title figure is the son of one of those original explorers and a highland woman, and this second film explores another kind of cultural dissonance - the conflict between Australianised Joe and his tribal relatives. The tense situation comes to a head in the third part of the trilogy, Black Harvest. Joe and his 'neighbours' are now business partners in a lucrative coffee plantation. When the international coffee market plummets, violence erupts in the hills of Papua New Guinea...
The great asset of Anderson and Connolly's filmmaking is their perseverance and attention to detail. By patiently sitting out the everyday goings-on of their chosen subjects they have access to the kind of telling background material that gives a human side to the big events that form the crux of their narratives - precisely the kind of material that flashier after-the-fact analyses lack. Furthermore, their constant presence over a long period of time inures their subjects to that presence and allows them to get that much closer to the action when it finally happens. Not that all the people featured in these films develop a mysterious amnesia in the course of being filmed - the Ganiga, in fact, seem far more aware of the power potential of media exposure than do the blasé politicians of Rats in the Ranks.
These films were acquired with the help of a grant from the New Zealand Film Commission