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TWISTS AND TURNS

To suggest there’s been a lot happen with this project over the past few years, in terms of the number of developments moving forward, backward and, more often than not, in circles, would be somewhat of an understatement. In fact, when considering the unconventional path it’s followed – particularly when knowing that, as I am still learning, it’s a path on which the project is likely to continue – I’m beginning to find it quite humorous. So, if nothing more than to add to this, I thought I’d best share with you a change that has occurred over the past few months, which, for me, has been by far the most exciting.

To explain how this change came to be, I’d like to start by taking you back to the beginning of 2010. Where, after having just returned from the Islands and, as a result of my experience there, having developed a profound belief in the spirit of community, I’d naturally felt that to grasp an understanding of how to transform this vision into the production of this project, the best approach would be to immerse myself in the experience of those who know. Which, in this case, would be through websites, forums, and other appropriate groups and networks; and so it began.

As the months unfolded, and I began to establish a sense of how these communities operated, I also began to develop a first draft of the film; which, amongst other things, would enable an opportunity for others to offer me their constructive critique. This was a period that, through having had a particular emotionally-driven vision for the film in mind and therefore a rough path to pursue, progressed with very little confrontation. Leaving me to believe that I may actually have known what I was doing. Though, six or so months in, after having finally completed and shown this cut to a couple of people working within the industry, I began to think otherwise.

To my surprise, I found that although the general response was quite positive, the actual criticism – which is of course the most crucial – was almost all in relation to my story… “But, how did you suddenly happen to be living in a foreign islander community, what drove you to do this, how did they react to you?” “Surely this experience must have had a significant impact on you? In what way? We need to hear more from you to understand the story.” Comments which, when considering my then belief that nobody would give a fuck about my plight in the face of such an incredible opportunity to learn about the fascinating lifestyle and people of Mentawai, were details I’d intentionally avoided.

Further to this, and that which prompted a sense of misjudgement on my behalf, as this update and critique process continued and the film began to develop – each time adding a little more of my journey to aid the confusion of the viewer, so too did their focus toward evolving this particular strand. A trend which taught me that, amongst other things, if a compilation of disorganized scenes is presented without a story to provide each a sense of purpose – irrespective of how fascinating or aesthetically pleasing they are individually – this uncertainty will inevitably serve to distract the viewer away from just enjoying the simple beauty of what was originally intended.

Which, in the end, after updating and showing another six or more versions of the film, finally directed me to conclude that, for this documentary to work, to find a way to really connect the audience with the people, I’d actually need to use my character as the main protagonist and to deliver a story. Which, despite the obvious difficulties, did seem to make sense. Not only would this provide an arc and tangible link to introducing each step of information relating to the Mentawai people, but, on the back of this, could also provide an opportunity to share an insight perhaps pertinent to the future of others having difficulty understanding their place in a modern-day capitalist society.

Agreeing that this was the way forward, but not having the experience to attract the support of a professional writer or script editor, I locked myself away for a rather long period, restructured the story, and wrote a deeply honest account of my experience living with the people of Mentawai. Reliving what I’d gone through there and how these people and their lives had – on a very intimate level – impacted me and, through forcing me to question what I’d once perceived to be reality, changed the way I look at life and the path I intend to follow. A transition, which, deeply moved by each additional discovery made about the Mentawai culture, their values, and sustainable behaviours, I hoped would carry the viewer through the film and allow them an opportunity to learn about this too, before deciding, for themselves, whether this knowledge and means of existence is worth protecting. A path, which, after completing and nervously presenting this new and rather personal version of the documentary to a group of experienced professionals, I discovered to not be as well received as I had hoped.

Instead, to my confusion, the constructive criticism had suddenly shifted into reverse. Indicating (although not quite as bluntly as this) that my approach seemed somewhat self-indulgent, that my character carried too much weight and that, basically, the story needed to be more about the people. Which, in a round about way, I thought was.

Somewhat disheartened – in that I’d placed so much confidence in the strength of honesty, I began wondering how disillusioned I am in my understanding the audience I’m hoping to reach, and the systems that may provide me access to them. A period of reflection, which, invoked by the response given by this group, thankfully, opened my eyes to something I’d actually not realized I’d lost. An ideological setting that in fact lies at the very heart of the projects objective.

Sure it reinstated me with the confidence that I don’t have to depend on my journey to find the strength in this story, great; but, far more importantly, it helped me to realize what affect the process of this past few years has had on me. How, through being so driven to achieve this vision and reliant on following the path of others to do so, I’d somehow lost sight of the simplicity of what I’d set out to do. Which, essentially, is to capitalize on the modern-technologies of my world to help deliver the voice of these Indigenous people to a large-scale audience who, ironically, may now hold the key to protecting their future.

“So what does this actually mean then?” Well, and I apologise for taking so long to get to the point, but, basically, it means that, whilst I’m sure this story could indeed be transformed to fit a broadcasters criterion – and perhaps down the track it will, for now and for the goal of this project, I plan to release a more targeted version of the film over the internet. Allowing all those interested in viewing it to do so at no cost.

“Where is it at then?” Well obviously this will ensure the film a faster road to completion – being free from a mountain of commercial constraints, but, equal to the film, it’s vital that all other components are finalized and ready for release alongside its release. Namely, the Cultural and Environmental Education Program (CEEP) and website. Which, thanks to the growing support of friends, I’m pleased to say are both now in the latter stages of completion.

Obviously the key info surrounding the film (trailer, synopsis, etc.) will need to be updated too, but this – along with everything else, will be happening soon.

I do hope that the erratic path of this project is not too frustrating for those of you following along and that it will be worthwhile in the end. Thanks for your patience

    2 Responses Subscribe to comments


    1. Glenn

      I just came across your website. I haven’t seen your film but I’ve got a feeling, reading your descriptions and thoughts about it and the local people that it repeats stereotypes like so many other films that have been made over the years in this area of Siberut.

      Reading the Ethnography section of my website and other papers in the adjacent menus would give you a heads up on all the others. It would be a much more complex and nuanced view though, and that may not make for good copy, which I fear has had a lot to do with these sorts of representations of the local people over the years.

      Jul 26, 2012 @ 7:22 pm


    2. Rob

      Hi Glenn, I’m glad to hear from you. I did spend some time reading through the articles and literature on your website a few months back, whilst analyzing data gathered through a (Sarereiket region) community survey. I found your website a great resource and in fact referenced you a number of times in the ‘Background and history’ section of the report, so thanks very much for the work you’ve done and for making it available to others.

      I’ve yet to release the film actually, so you’re not alone there. It though, along with all other components of the project, are at a fairly advanced stage and hopefully will be ready for release later in the year. I appreciate your comments inferring this may be just another white man’s romanticized view of a foreign situation, and concede that this is a criticism I’ll continue to face throughout, but realistically, besides a marketability value, the aesthetic appeal of the Mentawai tribes people has nothing to do with the importance (or motive) of this project.

      As I’m sure you’re aware, embedded within their Indigenous culture – beyond the surface of what is visual, lies a wealth that, irrespective of the path/lifestyle they pursue, will always remain relevant to the safety and protection of their survival. So, with strong evidence to support this – as found through research and documentation whilst living with both the tribal community and an outer island (resettlement) community, together with the results of a comprehensive community survey, the project is instead focused upon the importance of providing the children (and others) an opportunity to this Mentawai education alongside the national one.

      Ok, look forward to discussing further Glenn.
      Cheers, Rob.

      Jul 27, 2012 @ 11:46 am

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