BY PETER KRANZ
EXTRACTS FROM BELGIAN filmmaker Jean Pierre Dutilleux's first contact with a tribal people known as the Toulamis have recently been posted on Youtube.
The footage is moving and poetic and appears to be authentic. More information about Dutilleux's films can be found on his website here.
His film was first aired on French TV in the mid1990's. Perhaps because it has not been widely shown to English-speaking audiences, it has aroused keen interest and many favourable comments since its recent Youtube posting.
This controversial film also has been the subject of much scholarly debate in the Francophone world, and even threats of legal action.
It was severely criticised by French anthropologist and PNG specialist Pierre Lemonnier in his academic paper A la chasse à l'authentique (In pursuit of the real thing) published by Terrain, the European ethnological review in 1999, which is available here.
In this paper, Lemonnier points out that the Toulambis of the film are really the Ankave-Anga people from near Menyamya. The records indicate that these people were visited by at least six Australian government patrols between 1929 and 1972: 1929 Middleton; 1950 Chester, 1951 Mathieson; 1965 O'Brien; 1967 Police patrols; 1972 Meikle.
In fact Meikle found the people talking basic Tok Pisin learned at Menyamya.
Historical sources reveal that the so-called Toulambis had steel tools and western implements more than 40 years before their encounter with Dutilleux, and were regular visitors to the administrative center of Menyamya the early 1970's - which was only a few days walk for them.
This familiarity with the outside world is confirmed by ethnography, and in particular one Toulambi man spent two months in prison in Menyamya in the early '70's. Admittedly some remote groups may not have had regularly contact with the Australian administration before the 1960's, but they certainly did by the time Dutilleux encountered them.
When Lemonnier viewed the film for the first time he exclaimed: "I'm outraged!" He described the Dutilleux production as "untruthful, racist, revolting". Apparently Lemonnier recognised immediately the place where the fake "first encounter" had been filmed. The stream is known as New Year Creek, and the members of the "unknown tribe" probably walked for about a day from their settlement to reach the appointed well-lit meeting-place.
This had been conveniently cleared for the filming, with a few logs thrown into the creek so that the people could emerge confidently from the jungle (most unusual behaviour) and move naively towards the camera crew.
Lemonnier adds: "At that spot, they were about a four-day walk from an administrative centre with a schoolteacher, airstrip, radio, nurse and Seventh-Day Adventist preachers. Nearby, the navigable river Vailala enables the Papuans to reach the coast, where they exchange bark capes for tools."
For his criticism, Lemonnier faced a court case for slander in 1997, but the historical records support his case.
So how was the film made? Simple - the locals were paid for their performance and rehearsed in how to act their parts. In fact they were enterprising enough to have done this for several other 'first-contact' filmmakers before and after Dutilleux.