Monday, September 29, 2008

Why film making is not taking off In Papua New Guinea

Funding is number one problem identified

By KINGSTON NAMUN (this article was first published in 2003 but has now been republished due to the recent opening of National Television Service in Papua New Guinea)

From Demolition Man to Spiderman to Star Wars, Papua New Guineans have watched these Western films so many times that they have become household names.

Whether they be on DVD, video cassettes or on HBO, we have become so accustomed to American movies that we never give a second thought to the possibility that we could make our own.

Papua New Guinea is a land where films have been made even before we saw the white man on the big screen.

The first film made in Papua New Guinea was called Pearls and Savages in 1926 by an Australian, Frank Hurley, about life along the Papuan Coast.

Most films after that were ethnographic documentaries about the way of life in the country.

Then we saw the emergence of some short films such as Urban Drift, Fourth Child, Warriors in Transit, Marabe and Stap Isi, all about life in developing Papua New Guinea. Nationals like Albert Toro, Kumain Kolain, Martin Maden, Maggie Wilson, Pengau Nengo and expatriates like Dennis O’Rouke, Chris Owens, Bob Connelly and Robin Anderson were at the forefront of Papua New Guinea films in the last three decades.

The first fully Papua New Guinean 16mm drama film, Tukana-husat I Asua? was made in 1982, by the Institute of PNG Studies and the North Solomons Provincial Government.

Then in 1990, the second Papua New Guinean entertainment film, Tinpis Run, was made. This half a million US dollar co-production between a local company and a French company was shot in Tok Pepsin with English or French subtitles.

Films like Tinpis Run, Tukana, Marabe, Stap Isi, Stolen Moments, are locally made, yet over the years the film industry in the country has been fighting a desperate battle just to survive.


Because making films in Papua New Guinea today can be a very expensive exercise considering the country’s bleak economic situation.

Tukana cost about US$30,000 to $40,000; Stolen Moments was made for less than $10,000 with money raised from local businesses and the unpaid services of many.

That was some 10 years ago.

It is a different story today.

Ruth Ketau, film editor at the National Film Institute in Goroka, says the biggest problem is lack of funding from the government.

“Since PNG is a developing nation with many mouths to feed and is facing an economic downturn, the government can’t afford to put money into film making because it doesn’t see it as a priority.”

Yet the national information and communications policy (revised edition 1993), says: “It shall be the policy of the government to encourage and support the production of short educational films by both the private and public agencies.”

But can all the blame be put on the national government for Papua New Guinea’s deteriorating film industry?

One major hurdle the film industry is facing is that Papua New Guinea doesn’t have copyright laws.

Dr Nancy Sullivan, an American who was producer and co-director of Stolen Moments, says a big problem is video piracy.

“Whatever gets produced doesn’t get any revenue because it’s just copied and shown without being sold.

“Certainly the first step to an indigenous film industry would be the institution of copyright laws.”

Thirty-seven-year-old Oscar Sam Wanu, who played the lead role in Tinpis Run, says the film was professionally made.

Even though it won the ‘Best Acting Movie’ in Noumea and Paris, it didn’t get the proper screenings it deserved in Papua New Guinea.

“PNG has no copyright law and the moment one film is shown, it’s copied. To tell you the truth, even before I received a copy of the finished product of Tinpis Run, one of my wantoks had already shown it to his neighbours.”

Wanu also says that Papua New Guineans have been producing educational and documentary films but are less strong on entertainment films.

He said “If we are to break into the international film market we must be competitive because that is where we can make the big bucks.

Tinpis Run has stunts, special effects, lighting and sound effects which are ingredients of a successful entertainment film.

“Most PNG films need these to even start attracting international audiences.”

But Sullivan points out that Papua New Guinea films are very different to Western ones, and should make the most of those differences.

In PNG, there is a blur between real entertainment films and documentary.

“Unlike Western films, we produce ones which have fiction yet with facts to say something about the PNG way of life.

“There are not so much ‘aliens coming to earth’ or fantasy-type films but ones that have some truth about PNG culture.

“Because of that uniqueness, we can gain international audiences who are already tired of these crazy American films.”

The PNG National Film Institute (NFI) in Goroka is the only place in Papua New Guinea that makes films and also trains people to make them.

The institute comes under the National Cultural Commission, along with bodies like the National Museum, the National Performing Arts Troupe and the Institute of PNG Studies, which are all allocated funding under the commission’s annual budget.

The National Cultural Commission gave K368, 500 to the NFI, out of the total K2.1 million allocated to it by the national government last year (2002).

“It’s just not enough,” says Ketau.

“We were not able to make any major films in the last three years because of the cost associated with filmmaking in the country.”

Rodney Sinaune, who owns and operates Niugini Piksa Productions in Goroka, knows exactly why independent filmmakers like himself are also struggling.

“There was a National Film Symposium held in Goroka in 1987 where filmmakers, producers and editors formulated policies to help the industry, but since then, the policy has been shelved.

“There is talent out there but people don’t see the significance of an industry that can’t even make its own money and support itself.”

With the film industry ailing, another opportunity that has arisen is short television productions. The national television station, EMTV, has contributed by airing locally made programmes such as CHM Super Sounds, South Pacific Music, Insait, NCDC News and My People My Country.

But TV shows cannot really be a substitute for the missed chance of making indigenous Papua New Guinea films.

And while the film industry is busy fighting its battles, the country’s audience will continue watching foreign films to fill the entertainment void

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