About the Film
“This is a story of the Lak people. It‘s also a story of how I came to know the people of the region and how my story became forever woven into their own… I was to become enmeshed in events that resulted in bloodshed and death. What’s more, I was held responsible.”
In 2001 Paul Wolffram, a cultural researcher, travelled to one of the most isolated and unique corners of the earth. He eventually spent over two years living and working among the Lak people in the rainforest of Papua New Guinea. As his relationships with the people grew he began to glimpse a hidden reality, a dark and menacing history that loomed over his host community. Over time the sense that something is amiss grows. As his curiosity deepens Paul brings to light dark secrets that set in motion a compelling and deadly set of events.
“I know of no more successful or ingenious film that draws the viewer into another life-world while keeping faith with the tenor of its traditional narratives and respecting the lived experience of his/her interlocutors.“
Michael Jackson Harvard University
Colour Grading: Mat Fraser at Sauce Media
All music recorded in Southern New Ireland Papua New Guinea. All field recordings by Paul Wolffram
Sound Design & Audio Mastering: Bernard Blackburn at Refried Audio
Producer, Director, Cinematographer, Editor: Paul Wolffram
About the Lak
Papua New Guinea is a fascinating country with more than 800 distinct languages and almost as many cultural groups. The physical geography ranges from Highland plateaus to coral atolls. The countries six million inhabitants are spread over cities and towns but the majority dwell in villages and small rainforest communities. The island region of Papua New Guinea consists of the major islands of New Britain, New Ireland, Bougainville and Manus. New Ireland is a long and narrow island bulging at the southern end to approximately 50km across. First European contact is believed to be as early as 1616 when Dutch explorers sailed through the region. Brief encounters with Europeans continued until Germany colonized the island in 1886. During World War I Australia took control of the region and through World War II much of New Ireland was occupied by Japanese forces. In September 1945 New Ireland like the rest of Papua New Guinea fell under the Australian colonial administration, which continued to govern through to September 1975 when Papua New Guinea gained independence. New Ireland alone has around twenty living languages and some forty dialects. The region is administrated from the largest town of Kavieng at the northern end of the island. Northern New Ireland is well know for its elaborate masking traditions, the Malanggan, associated with funerals rites. The southern region practices a very different set of rituals which feature the large spirit figures know as Tubuan (see Rubber’s Kastom 2011).
Southern New Ireland remains difficult to access with no permanent roads stretching as far south as the Lak district. The Lak people survive as self-sufficient horticulturalists growing the majority of their food in large gardens. The region’s distance from the towns and the seat of government, and the cultural ties of the Lak people with the Tolai inhabitants of East New Britain combine to isolate the southern most region of New Ireland from the central and northern districts physically and culturally. These isolation factors have helped to ensure the survival of the traditional exchange and political systems that support the region’s cultural practices. Music and dance continue to play important roles in the way communities think about themselves and the world around them. It is through music and dance performance that the Lak express their relationships and display their power over the realms of the living and the dead. This film was shot during 2001 – 2002 over a fourteen-month period. A decade later the Lak region and people have experienced little in the way of development or change. Many children still have to walk for several hours on bush tracks to receive basic schooling. There are no communication networks in the region outside of the government station in Silur and Lambom and little in the way of medical care available. Most aid stations have poorly stocked dispensary with only basic facilities. The infant mortality rates are horrific and drug resistant malaria strains are extremely virulent throughout Southern New Ireland. Despite these ongoing hardships the Lak people remain warm and welcoming. They continue to celebrate and grieve the way their ancestors have for centuries. They pass their cultural knowledge from generation to generation through stories like this one and hope that they may continue to do so for generations to come.