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A new optimism across the Pacific

Australian film-maker John Hughes reports on this year’s Pacific Documentary Film Festival finds new dialogues opening up between islands, languages and cultures.

Fortuitous circumstances (for me, not so much for Harriet) led to an invitation to Tahiti to join the jury of the Pacific Documentary Film Festival FIFO in late January 2011, standing in for the Australian Director’s Guild’s Harriet McKern. At short notice Harriet had to decline FIFO’s offer due to pressing work commitments with the fast approaching ADG Conference. My hesitation took about as long as it takes a falling coconut to hit the ground cracking.

FIFO is in its 8th year and is expanding its horizons. This year the festival hosted a pitch session (for the 2nd time), screenings of short films from the region, a (drama) script development workshop, and a conference on regional media and broadcasting. The short films screening included a number of Australian films. FIFO has developed a partnership with the French Cabourg International Film Festival, and this year screened Cabourg’s 2010 prize winning feature and short drama. Australian films have traditionally done well at FIFO; last year a major prize went to Amiel Courtin-Wilson’s Bastardy, and Charlie Hill-Smith’s Strange Birds in Paradise was among the films screened.

Poster for 'This Way of Life' directed by Thomas Burstyn

Poster for 'This Way of Life' directed by Thomas Burstyn

This year there were 15 documentaries selected for competition and around 30 screened out of competition. The screenings were very well attended, with most films screening on three or four occasions over the six days of the festival. Filmmakers from Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii and elsewhere in the region attended. A number of Australian films were selected and two won major awards. The Jury’s Grand Prix went to Contact (Bentley Dean, Martin Butler, 78 minutes, 2009) and one of the three Special Jury Prizes went to Kuru: the Science and the Sorcery (Rob Bygott, 52 minutes, 2010). The other two Jury prize winners were New Zealand films. Trouble is My Business (Juliette Veber, 83 minutes, 2009), an observatory documentary dealing with the travails of an energetic vice-principal in an East Auckland school looking after Islander and Maori students and This Way of Life (Thomas Burstyn, 86 minutes, 2009), a sympathetic portrait of struggles and utopian life-style of Maori Christian couple Peter and Colleen Karena, their six kids and 50 horses, as they deal with family trauma in New Zealand’s idyllic Ruahine Mountains.

The People’s Choice audience award went to Lucien Kimitete (Dominique Agniel, 52 minutes, 2010), a Canal+ television account of the life and work of a much loved Marquesas politician and activist who disappeared along with his colleague Boris Léontieff and two associates when their small plane crashed into the sea in May 2002. No wreckage from the plane was ever found. The film acknowledges that many people in the region harbour suspicions about the plane’s disappearance, as Lucien Kimitete and Boris Léontieff were expected to assume power in immanent elections and their effective advocacy of local self-determination threatened the status quo. It is not an investigative film, but rather a wistful celebration of Lucien’s dedication that inspired a generation with the transformative power of traditional Marquesas culture.

FIFO is deeply engaged with these questions of culture and identity across Oceania and particularly alert to the role of documentary and other media forms to the future of French Polynesia. Environmental issues are urgent – last year’s Grand Prix went to a New Zealand film on global warming in the region There Once was an Island: Te Henua E Noho (Briar March, 80 minutes, 2010) – development, underdevelopment and social issues associated with economic uncertainty are balanced against the struggle to sustain a variety of Polynesian cultural identities. ‘Authenticity’, identity politics and self-determination across Oceania animate FIFO’s purpose. Take the Australian prize winners. Bentley Dean’s Contact is a beautifully realised cinematic essay reminding us that among the histories shared by the peoples of Oceania is the devastating encounter of Indigenous peoples with European culture, and in particular its weapons of mass destruction; themes clearly recognizable in French Polynesia.

Still from Kuru

Still from Kuru

Dealing in cannibalism, sorcery, scientific animal experimentation and ‘white man’s magic’ Rob Bygott’s Kuru boldly enters treacherous story territories of anthropology and colonialism in Papua New Guinea without a skerrick of vulnerability to accusations of ‘Orientalism’. The film delivers a deeply moving account of the value of meticulous ethnographic documentation and rigorous scientific curiosity that resulted in the discovery of a new mode of long gestation transmissible disease. The film works through conventions of the science and history specialist factual genre; but here the filmmaker has nourished the documentary content, transcending the tendency of specialist factual to flatten emotional engagement. Rob Bygott’s treatment has deployed shockingly confronting archival footage against warmly intimate testimony from the Fore people of New Guinea’s Eastern Highlands, and this combined with the persuasive humanitarianism and dedication of the film’s main protagonist Michael Alpers, offers an intellectually rich and intriguing narrative beyond both cultural and genre boundaries. The film becomes an exemplary instance of cross-cultural communications where an Indigenous community of Oceania are at the centre of the world.

New Zealanders or Australians made most of the films in competition this year, and were most prominent in the documentary program and short films screened. Much of the work originating locally owes a lot to magazine television. The Polynesian world is abundantly rich in powerful documentary stories. Local people may not yet have had an opportunity to gather together the resources necessary to articulate their own stories in their own documentary voices. Which brings me to the conferences.

The (3rd) ‘Digital Encounters Polynesia’ conference and (5th) Pacific Television Conference held in conjunction with FIFO delivered results. Digital broadcast has recently extended Polynesia’s television offerings, with the familiar attendant questions of ‘choice’ and cultural sovereignty. And a newly installed underwater cable (‘Honotua’) owned by the French Polynesian Telco offers potential for greater broadband communications. This is the context in which there was an agreement signed between France Televisions and the ABC that will allow, among other arrangements, the two biggest media organisations in the Pacific to share footage and content recorded in the field, which will allow for a much greater diversity of content. This will increase both English and French content in the Pacific and has been a long time coming. The deal will allow more stories from English language Pacific nations to make their way to French Polynesia and also provide mechanisms for more stories from the region to make their way back into Australia. Arrangements are in train to establish a syndicate, led by the ABC that will collate and share stories and raw footage from local and regional broadcasters. The conference also resolved to work toward a Pacific film fund to act as an incentive encouraging more independent film production from the diverse Pacific nations. This may take a little longer.

Carol Hirschfeld; Photo Phil Doyle

Carol Hirschfeld; Photo Phil Doyle

At FIFO this year the ABC was well represented by Radio Australia. Neither SBS nor ABC TV participated in the festival, conferences or the pitch environment. However New Zealand’s Maori TV provided an encouraging model of progressive television in the region. FIFO Jury member and Head of Programming at Maori TV Carol Hirschfeld is a strong supporter of documentary. She recognises the opportunities that creative documentary offers for informed dialogue across the region.

For Maori television documentaries are absolutely vital. Our two main free to air broadcasters in New Zealand are increasingly divesting themselves ­or choosing not to run documentaries – so this is an area (…) we can grow. We are the only free to air broadcaster that has a documentary slot for both local and international documentaries. So in the next five years I see our channel as being the dominant free to air broadcaster of documentaries in New Zealand; that is why a festival such as FIFO (…) will help us fulfil that in the next five years. (Carol Hirschfeld)

Australian documentary filmmakers may envy this commitment. Overall there is a sense of optimism as new networks of culturally diverse media production and distribution emerge across the region. These kinds of events are always eye-openers. We have tended to assume Australia as a kind of European outpost in the Asia-Pacific geography. There is another welcome perspective available in this Oceania imaginary so generously hosted by FIFO.

Apart from the warm and convivial hospitality from the festival, non-stop inspiring meetings with the like-minded from around the world and the region, and the exquisite tropical island environments, what’s a take-home message from FIFO? Don’t miss it, it will do you good. Thanks heaps Harriet; I owe you.

Originally written for the ADG (Australian Director’s Guild) newsletter

Postcolonial Challenges in Education

Coloma, Roland Sintos (ed.) Postcolonial Challenges in Education New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2009. X, 382 pp.

Postcolonial Challenges in Education traces the palimpsest histories of imperialism and colonialism, and puts to work the catachrestic interventions of anti-imperialist and decolonizing projects. This book functions as a set of theoretical, empirical, and pedagogical challenges to two fields of scholarship. It points out the inadequate attention to issues of education in studies of imperialism and colonialism as well as the relative absence of empire as a relevant category of analysis in studies of education. It brings together many of the world’s leading and emerging scholars who engage with the key debates and dilemmas in postcolonial and educational studies, and ushers in a collective of dissident voices that unabashedly aim to contest and reconfigure the current local-global order.

Word, Image, Action: Popular Print And Visual Cultures

Tuesday 7th June – Wednesday 15th June 2011 

FESTIVAL OPENING @ North Melbourne Town Hall,  Tuesday 7th June, from 6pm
Music by Little John (duo)
2011 Thesis  Eleven Annual Lecture with Ron Jacobs and Eleanor Townsley Media,  Intellectuals and the Public Sphere
Opening Dinner @ The Institute of  Postcolonial Studies 8:40pm (RSVP essential, by 30th May, contact details  below)
PRINT AND VISUAL CULTURES WORKSHOP @ La Trobe  University, Bundoora campus, Wednesday 8th June –Friday 10th, 9:30am –  4/6pm
A 3 day series of lectures, invited papers, plenaries, film  screening, art exhibition, artists discussion, and live performance from punk  art band ‘This Histrionics’.
WIKILEAKS FORUM @ The Wheeler  Centre, Monday 13th June 3-5pm
Does Wikileaks Matter? A forum on  Wikileaks with Robert Manne, Guy Rundle, Peter Vale and Eleanor  Townsley

@ State  Library of Victoria, Experimedia Room, Tuesday 14th June, 4-8pm
Half-day  public forum on the work of Zygmunt Bauman with speakers from The Bauman  Institute, Leeds and The Thesis Eleven Centre; followed by world premiere  screening of ‘The Trouble with Being Human These days’ by Director Bartek  Dziadosz. Concludes with reflections on ‘The Trouble with Being Human These  days’ from Zygmunt Bauman in conversation with Keith Tester

Christopher Pinney Impressions of Hell: Printing and Punishment in  India @North Melbourne Church Hall, Saturday 11th June, 7:30pm hosted by  The Institute of Postcolonial Studies
Ron Jacobs The Media Narrative in  the Global Financial Crisis @Melbourne University, Monday 13th June,  6:30pm, followed by dinner and drinks, hosted by the TASA Cultural Sociology  Group
Anders Michelsen Atrocious imagination: the paradox of affect –  the imagination of violence Keynote for Violence and the Imagination  Colloquium@Monash University, Caulfield Campus, Wednesday 15th June, 9  -10:30 am Program:
PUBLIC FILM SCREENING @State Library of  Victoria, Experimedia Space, Wednesday 8th June, 6 – 8pm
Public screening  of Robert Nery’s documentary ‘In 1966 the Beatles came to Manila’  

@LUMA, Glenn College La Trobe  University, Bundoora, Friday, 10th June 4-6pm
Asks how contemporary artists  remobilise vernacular cultures to interrogate and mediate the cultural ethics  of globalisation, as they engage themes including surf culture, tattoo  designs, informal architecture and colloquial language.
Curators Lecture  by Ryan Johnston, and discussion with local artists
With Punk Performance  Band ‘The Histrionics’ and the Boombox Burgers Taco Truck
FILM  AND VIDEO EXHIBITION: A POST BOOM BEIJING @Bendigo Visual Arts Centre,  View Street, Sunday 12th June 12:30 -4pm
Day trip to the Bendigo Visual  Arts Centre, including viewing of Arena: A post boom Beijing, film and  video exhibition.
Curators lecture by Laurens Tan.
Walking tour of Melbourne laneways, street art  and installations as well as local art and moving image museums (limited  places available, booking essential. Contact details below)  

@ La Trobe University  Bundoora, Wednesday 15th June, 10am – 5:30pm
Settler Societies And Popular Culture Various  speakers, including Marilyn Lake, Peter Vale, Patrick Wolfe and Anthony Moran  will discuss the popular cultures of settler societies, exploring issues of  race particularly, and looking comparatively across the experiences of  different settler societies.
Keywords Masterclass   Inspired by Raymond Williams Keywords (1983), thirteen thinkers will talk each about their chosen or nominated keyword, approaching  their topics in terms of traditional keywords (socialism, liberalism); 20th  century innovations (such as the postmodern and schemata); or exploring the  currency of other words (such as utopia, the migrant, regions, urbanism, walking and metanoia).

Festival of  Ideas Project
Thesis Eleven Centre for Cultural Sociology
La Trobe  University
ph: +613 9479 2700
fax: +613 9479 2705
email: [email protected] <outbind://95/[email protected]>

Coloniality and De-colonial Thinking Workshop (Hong Kong, June 2011)

One of the objectives/themes of the Hong Kong Advanced Institute for Cross-Disciplinary Studies is to examine the construction and the legacies of modern Euro-centered epistemology, especially the links between the development of Western rationalist scientific and technological “advances” and the construction of a differential, hierarchical ordering of peoples and their knowledge. This hierarchy has implicitly engendered colonial and neocolonial violences (both physical and also epistemological); and nowadays in the academic world it is present in the structural asymmetry within the distribution of scientific production between Euro-American intellectual spaces as loci of production of knowledge and the rest of the world reduced to the condition of an object of study or of branches of Euro-centered categories of thoughts and its institutions.

Therefore, we seek to examine various aspects of these epistemological imbalances and to promote a more insightful understanding of global coloniality.  We are interested in examining the epistemic and political potential of geopolitical of knowledge to redress the imbalance that coloniality has created and naturalized. Moreover, the analytic of coloniality is always already de-colonial thinking and it implies going beyond the conformity of established disciplines and their organs of authority. With this in mind, this exploratory workshop invites international researchers known for their engagement with these critical challenges, to lead discussions on coloniality and de-colonial thinking with the objective of finding common grounds, and to explore possibilities of mounting international collaborative research projects.

More information here.

An anything but silent night about Melanesia

Kirk Huffman and Sana Balai

Kirk Huffman and Sana Balai

Given the unseasonably cold weather, it was a strong turn out at the Institute of Postcolonial Studies for the ‘Silence must be heard’ discussion about Melanesian culture. A large contingent from Papua New Guinea ensured a lively discussion following about the relative benefits of development in the region.

Sana Balai began with a haunting account of her childhood experience in Buka Island listening to waves at night for a sign of the chief’s passing away. She recounted many fascinating incidents she has experienced as a curator at the National Gallery of Victoria, dealing with stories from the region that she knows are not permissible for her to hear.

Kirk Huffman compressed his extraordinary experience working in Vanuatu for nearly 40 years, defending the traditional way of life against development. In one remarkable story, he spoke about the taboo associated with the chief’s voice and the interlocutor who cancelled any accidental hearing of the chief by use of a wooden instrument. He also recounted the Vanuatu traditional view of the ‘world of steel’ represented by Westerners, and the village that refused to speak any more after the white men had captured their words in recording devices.

This event planted the seed for a future symposium that might fully explore the politics of silence in our region. Many questions were raised:

  • How does the Western crusade against secrets, such as Wikileaks, engage with societies whose traditions are based on knowledge restrictions?
  • Can silence be seen as a positive action, rather than a withholding?
  • How does this compare to the place of silence in Western culture, such as ‘the right to remain silent’ and ‘a minute’s silence’ of respect?
  • Are there protocols for Westerners who are working with Melanesian societies that builds trust in confidentiality?
  • How can knowledge be understood as the protection of secrets as much as spread of information?

There is clearly much more to learn from Melanesian culture. There is now the prospect of a future event where peoples of the region can share the understanding, commitment and sounds of silence.

Southern Latitudes

Another forthcoming conference, to be held at the State Library of New South Wales, Southern Latitudes, is presented by the Australia & New Zealand Map Society (ANZMapS) and is to be held from24–27 May 2011. The conference will cover a wide range of topics from presenters including several Petherick readers. Speakers include:

  • Frederick Muller, ‘The first map documenting Magellan’s sighting of the Southland and sailing of the Pacific: Fries’ Tabula moderna alterius hemispherius, 1525’
  • Dr Michael Pearson, ‘Charting the sealing islands of the Southern Ocean’
  • Allen Mawer, ‘Incognita: The Incredible Shrinking Continent’
  • Sydney map collector Robert Clancy, ‘Shaping Australia: 1850-1950’
  • Rupert   Gerritsen, ‘The Freycinet map of 1811 – The first complete map of Australia?’
  • John Robson, ‘University of Waikato, ‘John Lort Stokes’
  • Mark Alcock, Project Leader, ‘Law of the Sea and Maritime Boundary Advice Project’
  • Bronwen Douglas, Senior Fellow at the ANU, ‘Geography, Raciology, and the Naming of Oceania, 1750–1850’
  • Christine Kenyon and Katrina Sandiford, ‘Charles Sturt, 1838, Overlander and Explorer: Tracing his journey by map and diary’
  • Bernie Joyce, ‘The 150th Anniversary of the Burke & Wills Expedition’

Details of the program, and registration etc are at

Southpaw–a literary left-hook from the Global South

Issue 1: displacement

Southpaw is a punchy new literary journal that will feature the voices and perspectives of writers from the South. Entering into dialogue with artistic communities across the South, it means to develop links, provoke conversation and share knowledge. Launching in 2011 from Melbourne Australia, it will feature fiction, creative-nonfiction, cultural commentary, essays, poetry, drawings and other graphics from writers and artists in the South.

Southpaw is currently looking for submissions in each of the above categories: short fiction, creative nonfiction, commentary, poetry, drawings, and essays up to 3000 words.

The first issue of Southpaw will be shaped by the experience and idea of ‘displacement’ – a theme with which Southern communities are especially familiar. But this is not necessarily to imply a negative encounter with change or trauma: displacement (in practice and thought) also suggests new possibilities and positive challenges that enliven thinking and burst into creative expression. Southpaw is looking for contemporary voices in all forms of writing. The energy of the South and the alternatives its many cultures and individual creativities offer today will be a challenge and antidote to the traditional sources of cultural influence and activity.

Please make your submission in Word by 30 April 2011.

Email your writing or drawing to: [email protected]

Alison Caddick, for Southpaw editorial group

When Silence Must be Heard: Knowledge in the Pacific

A dialogue with Sana Balai and Kirk Huffman

Thursday 12 May October 2011 7:30-9pm, Institute of Postcolonial Studies, North Melbourne

‘Knowledge wants to be free’ is a mantra of the information revolution. The concept of enlightenment is based on the assumption that knowledge is a good in itself, and that any limit on its access is a feudal barrier that fosters prejudice. The recent rise of Wikileaks continues this campaign of liberation through transparency.

But should all knowledge be publically accessible? The Indigenous Fijian Vanua Research Framework advocated by Unaisi Nabobo-Baba contextualises knowledge in the interests of Pacific peoples. Within this framework, knowledge is exchanged with the same kinds of obligations as other gifts. There are times, when silence is the most appropriate form of expression.

In the region, museums play a key role in presenting traditional cultures to the broader public and the western gaze. So how do museums negotiate their public mission to put other cultures on display with opposing Indigenous protocols to control knowledge by ritual means.

Two speakers with extensive experience in putting Melanesian culture into museums will reflect on how to negotiate across knowledge systems.

Sana Balai

Sana Balai

Sana (Susan) Balai was born on Buka Island, Autonomous Region of Bougainville in Papua New Guinea. An applied science graduate, Sana spent more than 13 years working for Bougainville Copper Limited (CRA/Rio Tinto subsidiary) in the Analytical, Environmental Research and Development Studies Laboratories (Bougainville, PNG), Pilbara Laboratories Niugini Limited (Lae, PNG), and PNG Analytical Laboratories (Lae, PNG). Sana began her museum career in the Indigenous department at Melbourne Museum, 1997-2002, which led to her employment at the National Gallery of Victoria in July 2003. A member of Pacific islands’ Advisory committee to the Melbourne Museum, 1994-99 and a member of the planning committee of Pacific Islands’ festival held in association with the 2006 Commonwealth Games. Sana is an active member of the Papua New Guinea community in Melbourne; she was recently appointed Community Liaison (Victoria) for the Board of Australian Association for the Advancement of Pacific Studies in April 2010. Sana is an assistant curator of Indigenous art/curator of Pacific art with the National Gallery of Victoria.

K.Huffman pursued studies in anthropology, prehistoric archaeology, and ethnology at the universities of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Oxford and Cambridge in the UK. Beginning with fieldtrips into parts of the Maghreb, and the northern and western Sahara, he has concentrated on working with traditional cultures in Vanuatu since 1973. From 1977 until the end of 1989 he was Curator (National Museum) of the Vanuatu Cultural Centre, and still returns regularly to Vanuatu, where he has so far spent just over 18 years working with the peoples and cultures. He has also worked with traditional cultures in parts of South America, the Solomons, and with peasant cultures in the western Mediterranean. Based in Sydney, he is currently Honorary Curator, Vanuatu Cultural Centre, Vanuatu; Member, Scientific Committee, Museum of Tahiti and the Islands, Punaauia, Tahiti (French Polynesia); Corresponding Member, Institute of Advanced Studies, (university of ) Nantes, France; Research Associate, Australian Museum (Sydney), and Honorary Associate, Macleay Museum, University of Sydney. He has published and lectured widely in several languages, and has been involved in the production of numerous cultural radio and television documentary programmes from the 1970s to the present day.

Southern Panoramas

A call from Videobrasil

Southern Panoramas: accepting submissions until March 10
With a new name, focus, and format, the 17th International Contemporary Art Festival SESC_Videobrasil is accepting submissions for the Southern Panoramas competitive exhibition up until March 10, 2011. Open to all artistic manifestations for the first time, the exhibition is accepting submissions of installations, performances, book-objects, and other experiments. Visual artists from Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, Asia (except Japan), Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and Oceania may submit artwork produced from May 2009 onwards.
View the regulations and entry forms for the 17th Festivall here.

And from Tokyo:

South by Southeast: Australasian Video Art
SJ RAMIR | Patricia PICCININI | Steve CARR | Angelica MESITI | Swirhana SPONG | Daniel CROOKS | Shaun GLADWELL | Damiano BERTOLI | Ronnie VAN HOUT | Daniel VON STURMER | David ROSETZKY | Richard BELL
10.30 – 12.30 Sunday 20 February 2011
16.00 – 18.00 Thursday 24 February 2011
Australia and New Zealand exist at a point somewhere between the eastern and western worlds, maturing away from British colonialism to become progressive modern countries with specific indigenous heritages. South by Southeast operates as a broad survey of recent single channel video works by Australian and New Zealand artists, reflecting the complex diversity of artists living in these countries and their unique approach to art making. The works emerge out of the specific cultural and geographical conditions of these isolated countries while reflecting the pervasion of, yet irrefutable distance from, the centres of global cultural influence.    
The works within the screening program seek to introduce a selected survey of current art practice from these countries, marking a shift from the documentation of the performative – prevalent in the early employment of the medium of video within an art context – as well as the narrative format prominent within conventional cinema works. This selection of single channel video works often foresake a stringent narrative linearity, instead creating drama that operates outside of a defined temporal sequentiality. These works are for the most part produced with a gallery and museum framework in mind, operating more within the realm of the moving image, rather than as films intended for a cinema context.
Many of the works evoke a strong sense of isolation, depicting singular figures within various situations or against the backdrop of almost undisturbed landscapes, be they urban, suburban or rural. This alludes to the distant position of these countries in relation to the rest of the world, whilst also referencing the relative expansiveness of their respective topographies and comparatively sparse populations. To this end, the Hitchcockian title refers to the idea of locating oneself, both physically and psychologically in relation to our geographic and cultural differences, and in particular, on the occasion of the Yebisu International Festival for Art & Alternative Visions, to the geographical location of Australia and New Zealand in relation to Japan.
For more information on the program please go to:
Yebisu International Festival for Art & Alternative Visions
Daydream Believer!!
Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography
17 – 27 February 2011