Sunday, December 31, 2006

From the horse's mouth....

Ok – a lull on the updates but Christmas and a wedding (not mine) at this end have absorbed time. I’m writing this from Dunedin and I’m sparing a thought for Zane and Briar at the moment, though, because they’ve been shooting non-stop since arriving on the island, and Briar has already had to deal with a case of the sniffles but nothing more serious, thank god.

Briar writes:

Since we arrived we have hardly had the chance to sit down and enjoy the scenery. It has been pretty hectic.

It is pretty hot as you could imagine but both Zane and I have mostly acclimatised now. We are putting heaps of sun block on and the mosquitoes are no way near as bad as Bethells (Beach, where I’m from). They don't buzz in your ears and drive you crazy at night so I think things are pretty good really.

In terms of story we were lucky to meet this man called Sam on the boat. He had come from the ABG (Autonomous Bougainville Government) to talk to Nukumanu (Tasman Islands) and Takuu about the possibility of relocating. He had a really positive meeting at Nukumanu but only spent one day in Takuu. I was a bit sad about the missed opportunity. However I am surprised at how open people are to talk about the island's situation. Especially the sinking - people know about it - they are seeing the changes and they are happy to talk about it. They are also really good speakers, which is great.

We have had lots of chances to film observational material. On the second day of the Tukumai during the 12 hour singing sesson that goes into the night, a man literally dropped out of his chair and fell down dead. This was a shock to the whole village and for the next four days from now we are expecting the funeral to be held. This is something we can't film but it will be a good chance for us to take a break and get involved in the village life activities.

Friday: I went to the funeral today - it was very intense and rather upsetting. Just like what you would expect everyone is very open and expressive with their grief and for quite some time people were wailing and weeping over the dead body. They took the body to Takuu. The vaka with the body must arrive there first and this is followed by a flotilla of boats. It was quite a sight seeing this in the early morning.

Tomorrow Zane and I plan to go around the whole village and take fun snap-shot-y film clips of people and then edit this together into a quick five minute piece. We will then screen this as a way of showing people the camera what it does and what we do. Hopefully it will be away of getting to know people and getting people behind our project.

Then the next few days following that I hope to do some field research basically just finding our characters.

I’ll try and write again soon.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

How about a fish in the face??

Communications with the island are sporadic at the moment and all the information I've got is coming from Richard's family, since he's been a bit freer with his satellite phone calls than Briar and Zane right now. I'm expecting a call from Briar on Saturday this week, but she sounds busy, so we'll have to see.

Reports so far suggest that both Briar and Zane have been warmly welcomed. The fishing has been great this week and Zane is about to join in or has in fact already been on a deep-sea fishing trip beyond the reef. This is a pretty exciting proposition since the boats have to be taken through the breakers at the edge of the reef and there's lots of white water and an ever-present possibility of ending up in the ocean. Once the fisherman get going I'm told there's a good chance of Zane being hit in the face with a fish because they get pulled off the line and tossed in the boat without much warning. It sounds like the tuna are running at the moment, so that's got to be a good-sized fish across face. Interesting aside: women on Takuu don't go fishing, so Zane will probably be the only one of the crew who gets to go.

Briar, as expected, has found it easy making friends and has already been or is about to go on a trip with some of the women of Takuu, from the smaller island where they live to the larger island in the atoll, known as Takuu. She's going to be shooting there, but exactly what I don't know. The trip to the larger island may relate to a recent death of one of the islanders (although it equally may not). Tekaso, the man who is working with Richard on Richard's Takuu Dictionary project has recently lost his sister which is really sad.

I'm sure that more has happened since the last contact, but that's all I know for now. When I know it you'll know it.

In last post we forgot to mention the tireless efforts of Adnan Bharmal at Signature Travel who managed to get us connecting flights at the last minute without having to charge the earth and Sione Paasia who somehow found us domestic flights from Moresby to Buka despite the Christmas rush. Without their timely interventions no one would have made it to Takuu.

Actually I'm still recovering from the strain of pre-production. Dealing with PNG is a lesson in patience, which is not always rewarded. I was on the phone to Moresby all day every day for three days last week. The story went like this:

After hearing four different departure dates for the boat I got a call from Richard (who was in the Coromandel with his family) to say that Sue, the missionary from Takuu, had been trying to get hold of him on behalf of the shipping office in Buka (where the crew were due to depart for the island from). Turns out we had only a few days to finish preparations because the boat was going to leave for the atolls on Saturday, rather than Tuesday the following week, which meant a Friday departure. The panic! The crew visas weren't yet in the country and weren't even approved yet. All of the plane flights were booked to connect with the boat going 3 days later. The Christmas rush meant that not only were all earlier available flights inside PNG booked up, but luggage and passengers were being put off without warning. Adnan warned me that Briar and Zane should prepare themselves to make do with carry-on luggage only. We knew the connection to the boat was going to be made with minutes to spare and if any luggage was put off, there would be no way of recovering it before the boat's departure. At this point Zane was entrusted with finding portable solar panels to take on-board and I instructed he and Briar that they would have to carry at least one camera, charger and set of batteries between them onto the plane. Visions of spending thousands of dollars of Screen Innovation/Robbers Dog money to get them to the island only to have no way of making the movie leapt into my head and the general effect wasn't pretty.

However things could only get worse. Adnan was initially unable to even get Briar, Zane and Richard waitlisted onto a flight between Moresby and Buka before the boat's departure. He kept trying and finally got us onto the bottom of a long list for a flight on Saturday morning. If nothing was delayed and provided they could get seats on the flight, Briar and Zane would be able to make the boat with about an hour to spare (yeah – sweet). The waitlist was long and we weren't confident. After a nasty afternoon trying to get a charter flight organised (charters were so booked up I couldn't even get a quote) Briar realised that Sione Paasia, a member of the Association Na Takuu who she had spoken to about the film, worked for Air New Guinea, and he might be able to help us. After a panicked phone call from us both he must have managed to figure out what was required and how to get it because a day later, three days before the final departure date, he had somehow managed to swing the tickets we needed.

By this time Adnan had discovered it was going to cost us $3000.00 to change the dates on the tickets between Brisbane and Moresby. More panic. Not in the budget, not even in the ballpark. I started begging Zane and Briar for money but couldn't get hold of Richard. What to do. Then sweet (albeit temporary) relief - Adnan managed to find seats that didn't require such a high fee. Back in business.

In the mean time I contacted the New Zealand Police stationed in Buka and (exercising a steely control over my now hyper-active adrenal glands) begged them to shop for the bulky equipment we had planned to buy in port before Zane and Briar got on the boat - not standard duty for them. I emailed through a shopping list and they agreed to go to it, provided they got word that Zane and Briar had made the flight from Moresby on Saturday morning.

With flights secured I was turning my attention to the visa situation - still no sign - when Richard phoned with the heart-stopping news that the boat was being ordered to leave port for the atolls on Friday - a day early - by the MP for Atolls. There was no way we could make it by then - no visas, no earlier flights inside PNG, no hope. However further phone calls revealed that it would probably be possible for the boat to wait. Probably.

Thursday arrived - one day to go - and despite calls to Moresby the visas still hadn't shown up. Finally Jim Robins discovered that all our paperwork had been lost in the bowels of PNG's immigration department and walked over with copies of everything, and stood watching to make sure it was faxed. In Wellington there was still no sign. I couldn't get hold of Jim again - did I mention phone service to PNG is sporadic?? - and the staff in Wellington were getting annoyed by all the calls. Finally at about 3.30pm I got word that permission for Briar and Zane to enter PNG as non-profit filmmakers had arrived. But then discovered that the person responsible for signing the visas off had left the office, possibly for the rest of the day. The visa clerk hadn't told him before he left that the visa permissions had arrived. Now almost beside myself I got Briar to ring the High Commission and ask what had happened. An administrator thought that the person who would be signing the visas off was only having a smoke (never have I been more grateful to Marlborough). I called at 4.10pm and the visas were signed and sealed. Pace couriers were immediately dispatched and a twitching call at 4.50pm revealed the visas had been picked up. By 9.30pm I was signing for them outside our office in Auckland still unable to believe they had finally been delivered and the trip was actually going to go ahead. Six hours before everyone was due to leave for the airport.

More dramas ensued when Briar couldn't process our entire currency purchase in Brisbane (thanks BNZ for not warning me about the daily purchase limit on the visa) and Zane had to weigh in with his credit cards. Then the flight was delayed. Gak. But it didn’t really matter – everyone made it to Moresby by the evening and got to the airport the following day in good time for the connecting flight. The boat DID wait till Saturday (specially for us I think) and the only other hairy moment arose on Saturday morning when I couldn’t call the police station in Buka to say that the crew were on their way – damn phones were down again. But the shopping was done (except for the chairs). Thank god for email (and Jim, Adnan, Sione and the lovely New Zealand police)!

And really, you know the rest....

More later

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The eagle has landed!

Briar and Zane along with Richard Moyle made the boat to Takuu on Saturday, after a series of incidents in which everything that could go wrong did go wrong and at the worst possible moment.

The crew managed to make the flight from New Zealand on Friday, carrying new portable solar panels delivered at the airport with a full 20 minutes to spare and newly-minted visas that arrived a nail-biting seven hours before departure. Despite the 2 hour delay in Brisbane (the plane broke), the connecting flight through to Buka was caught, and so the half-day delay that the good ship Sankamap had agreed to so that the crew could make the sailing wasn’t wasted. Weather for the boat-trip was great and there were dolphins and flying fish on the journey, which bodes well for the whole project.

Thanks to Chris Edwards for technical and communications assistance in late pre-production, Jim Robins at the National Research Institute, Port Moresby, for taking it upon himself to force PNG’s lumbering bureaucracy to yield the visas in time, the New Zealand Police stationed in Buka for shopping for us since Briar and Zane didn’t have time and for answering all questions no matter how random, and to UPS for letting us in at their airport terminal at 5.30am to get the solar panels that had just arrived from America. Thanks also to anyone else including parents and friends who packed for us, shopped for us and otherwise gave up their time and resources. We couldn’t have done it without you….

Zane and Briar about to depart:

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

OOps! Rocket Rentals!

In the last post we made we completely forgot to mention on of our most important sponsors - the lovely Rocket Rentals, who are supplying (amongst other things) cameras and filters, sound equipment, a back-up petrol generator and their vast experience with road cases. Rocket were one of the first places we approached. They came on board early, and are proving to be the glue that holds the whole technical plan for how to do such a complex project together. Thanks guys!

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Better and better!

We’ve been frantically working towards getting gear together for the big trip and doing publicity, trying to get as much support for the project as possible. Consequently we haven’t updated this as often as we would have hoped. Here’s a big catch-up and we’ll try and keep blogging and keep you up with the play on a more regular basis from now on.

First up we’d like to welcome Sarah Lawrence to the crew. Sarah has trained in documentary directing and is currently interning at an NGO here in Auckland, but she has kindly offered her time and considerable smarts to the project, which is most appreciated.

Our itinerary has changed once again, as the boat that services the atolls, including Takuu, is one is now going early in December and then again later in the month. Rather than trying to press our departure date a bit earlier we’re currently expecting to go around December 20th. This leaves us more time to properly prepare our equipment and for Zane and Briar to finish getting shots for things like cholera, and get their lives in Auckland tidied up in preparation for a two month absence. A later travel date is also a good thing because of the unpredictability in processing time when getting a visa to enter Papua New Guinea. Having applied for the wrong kind of visa we had to start the process again, and we need to wait till Port Moresby gets in contact to give us the go ahead. All rather nerve-wracking.

Despite the volume and complexity of preparations and the difficulties of learning exactly what needs to be done going into somewhere like PNG as we go, we’ve been really pleased to be able to share the story of Takuu more widely with readers of the Aucklander,, and the Sunday Star-Times and with the listeners of the Larry Williams Show on Newstalk ZB and Nine to Noon on National Radio. Briar and Richard Moyle, possibly the world’s most patient anthropologist, are doing an interview on TV1’s Breakfast show at 7.40am tomorrow (Friday December 1), so you might want to tune in for that. Amber Older at Auckland University has been generously organising additional publicity and making sure we have all our outreach bases covered. You can find information about Takuu and our film on the Auckland University website.

We’ve been presented with so much support from so many companies, organizations and individuals it’s really very humbling. Panasonic are lending a DVX100 camera and Toughbook laptop as well as plenty of batteries – they’ve also come to the party with an offer of new tape stock, as have the wonderful people at Next Technology. Flying Fish are giving us backup stock for translation and transcribing (thanks Ems), and CineStuff are supplying us with a lighting kit free of charge.

Oxfam have been amazing, lending us a second camera, and generously giving us the benefit of their experience on the ground in the region. The VSA have supplied contacts and information. Ecoinnovation in New Plymouth and AA Solar here in Auckland have given us a good rate on solar panels, and Ecoinnovation has also given us the benefit of very informed advice on trickle charging batteries and other power-related issues.

Private individuals who have donated money include Thierry Jutel, Noeline Gannaway, Rowan Wernham, Donna Te Kanawa, artist Cellulite Rose and Vanessa Moon. Documentary filmmakers Susan Potter and Claudia Pond Eyley have offered us tape stock.

Some family members and friends of the crew have been particularly generous with their support and interest in the film, especially when it comes to developing the story or getting publicity. A special big thanks to Liz March (the director’s mother) who came up with a wonderful suggestion for the title of the film. She is lending one of her stills cameras for the trip and has made sure the crew have the appropriate vitamin and mineral supplements - what would we do without Mums! We would also like to mention Jane Gardiner’s enthusiasm for the story, and Anna Bates useful contacts in PNG.

The New Zealand Police stationed in Buka, Bougainville have been very welcoming via email and have offered a secure lockup for all the generously donated gear we’re taking, and we’ve even had advice on survival from a dude from New Zealand Defence Force.

I’ve heard it said that it takes a village to raise a child, but I reckon it takes the whole world to save a village. Thanks so much to everyone who’s contributed to the trip so far. Every single little bit makes a difference.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

DOP and funding found!

We're delighted to announce that Zane Holmes, producer and director on such luminastic NZ television shows as Maddigan’s Quest, Secret Agent Men, P.E.T Detectives and Being Eve has decided to bring his contacts, his technical expertise and his shoot-to-edit eye to Takuu in order to be our Director of Photography. The search has been pretty extensive and we're really happy to have a filmmaker as flexible and enthusiastic as Zane onboard.


We're equally delighted to announce that production company Robbers Dog has given us the NZ$8,000 that we needed to guarantee a safe shoot. Robbers Dog are also being very supportive in the nuts and bolts of managing the project, and in looking for sponsorship. They join Occasional Productions and the Screen Innovation Production Fund in helping us get the film in the can.

Enormous generosity has been shown to Takuu film, but we can always use more funding - every dollar will make a difference to what ends up on screen, and we still need decent camera and sound equipment, solar panels and a petrol generator, as well as miniDV stock, both used and blank. If you're wanting to contribute to the project please get in touch.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Seeking sponsorship and camera skills!

We need further funding and some additional skills to get this film in the can.

In December we're sending a two-person crew (consisting of Briar and a director of photography) to document the story of a sinking island in the Pacific.

Our DOP has had to pull out due to other committments and we're recruiting a replacement at the moment. If you're interested, email us using the link provided, or call Lyn on + 64 27 282 9593.

We've got much appreciated Screen Innovation Production funding (from a New Zealand government scheme) for the project. However the extreme remoteness of the island means a very challenging shoot and to do a good job we really need more resources than this grant can provide. We're looking for sponsorship in exchange for a screen credit and we'd be very happy to accept any donations of money or offers of equipment. Being able to borrow or be given:

a 3 chip mini-DV PAL video camera
extra and larger-size camera batteries and chargers
mini-DV stock (including old tapes that have already been used, for translation purposes)
solar panels (there's no electricity on the island)
a pc laptop or
a video deck

would be incredibly helpful, and any donations, big or small, would be extremely gratefully received.

For further information about the film check out our previous post and to find out more about the island of Takuu try the sidebar links on this page.

Friday, November 03, 2006

A short description to get you started

Our film is about a sinking island, Takuu, a polynesian outlier (250km Northeast of Bougainville) where the people still practice traditional polynesian religion and cosmology. We aim to document the particular challenges they face at the moment in a poetic, reflexive way. The film is being directed by Briar March (Allie Eagle and Me) produced by Lyn Collie and supervised by Annie Goldson.

Tectonic activity is combining with on-going climate change to put more pressure on the island than is being experienced in other parts of the pacific at the moment. It is sinking at a rate of 20cm/year. The elders are refusing to leave the island in the event that it sinks completely - and this is quickly becoming a possibility as king tides this year went right over the top of it. Rising sea-levels have knock-on effects for gardening which is becoming precarious. As the salt-water table rises, the taro rots in the ground, leaving people with just fish to eat.

Takuu's particular culture is changing. With missionaries and religious schooling for teenagers living off the island, the local religion is facing competition. This is the last place in the Pacific where traditional polynesian religion is practiced.

Unlike Tuvalu, also sinking, Takuu is part of PNG and the people on the island don't have the option of emigration to a stable Western country like New Zealand when the inevitable happens. They will most likely be relocated to Buka, part of Bougainville, which has a history of political instability and is also malarial. Richard Moyle, an anthropologist who has worked with the community for the last 14 years, is convinced a move to Bougainville will have a big impact of the health of the Takuu population, particularly the elders. And moving from their island will place even more pressure on the local religion which is fully integrated with Takuu's particular geography and night sky.