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Film on Lak people wins top visual anthropology prize

6 September 2012

Film on Lak people wins top visual anthropology prize

A Victoria University film lecturer’s feature-length documentary about the Lak people of Papua New Guinea has won a top visual anthropology prize.

Dr Paul Wolffram is enjoying international recognition for his film Stori Tumbuna: Ancestors’ Tales, with the work receiving the Jean Rouch prize from the Society for Visual Anthropology in San Francisco, an award given for collaborative and participatory work.

Stori Tumbuna: Ancestors’ Tales is a feature length ethnographic documentary produced by Dr Wolffram, who spent two years living with the Lak people in the remote region of Southern New Ireland in Papua New Guinea.

Dr Wolffram’s film had its premiere in Wellington at the New Zealand International Film Festival in 2011 and was selected to screen at the Jean Rouch International Film Festival in Paris later that year. Jean Rouch was a founder of visual anthropology and is widely known for his ethnographical films on African peoples. Earlier this year, Dr Wolffram’s film was shown at the Göttingen International Ethnographic Film Festival in Germany.

Dr Wolffram is due to travel to the United States in November to receive the Jean Rouch prize. At the same time, he will show and discuss his film at several American universities, including Harvard in Boston.

Dr Wolffram first went to Papua New Guinea in 2001 to study music and dance as part of his PhD research. He has since made two more trips to the region where the Lak people live, an area with no permanent roads, no power or water supply and few public services.

In total, he has made three films about the Lak people—the first and third aimed at ethnographers and anthropologists and the second—Stori Tumbuna: Ancestors’ Tales—for a general audience.

Rather than telling the Lak people’s story from the perspective of an outsider, Dr Wolffram describes his films as a collaboration.

“My goal is to give viewers an understanding of how the Lak people see the world. Rather than telling stories about them, it is a participatory journey where people can experience the traditional mythologies of the region.

“The Lak people are a self-sufficient community living in rain forest. These films are one of the few opportunities they have had to present themselves to the rest of the world.”

Dr Wolffram says receiving the Society for Visual Anthropology award is very special. “It is a great honour to receive an award associated with Jean Rouch, who is one of the greatest ethnographers we have seen and was way ahead of his time in his approach to making films about African peoples.

“It’s also important to see the value of indigenous narrative being recognised.”

Stori Tumbuna: Ancestors’ Tales has secured a distributor who will sell the film in the education and academic markets in the United States and Europe.

Dr Wolffram has formed a lasting attachment to the Lak people—he has been given a clan name and a place in the community and made a commitment to return to their region at least every five years.

He also gives the Lak people half of the royalties collected from screenings of his films.

"I feel very lucky to have had an opportunity to work in Papua New Guinea and feel I owe a great debt to the people of the Lak region," says Dr Wolffram.

ENDS

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