Virginie Adoutte: ‘The story of Rapa Nui had to be told and shown eventually’
A dab hand at producing films about colonisation, Virginie Adoutte struck up an interest in Pacific history for the first time. And not just any. Rapa Nui, the Secret History of Easter Island gives a first rendition of the history of this population that was colonised, exploited and imprisoned by soldiers on orders from Chile and under the influence of a wool company set up on the island. A unknown story until now or in any case little-known. The producer Virgine Adoutte reveals the background information about this moving and necessary documentary.
This is the first time that you are producing a Pacific documentary, what made you do that?
I thought the story was extraordinary, I was very moved by it. At the beginning, I worked a lot on colonisation but what is amazing and appalling in this story, is that the colonisation lasted until the 70s. It was therefore very recent. This is the scandal that moved me. It was absolutely essential that the world knew about this subject, so what better way than to make a film about it! And I think that it’s actually one of the most moving films that I have ever produced, its speech and human quality exceeds my other documentaries. I think that it succeeded as it moves all audiences whether Polynesian or Parisian, it has a universal aspect.
The documentary covers a story that until now has not been told, what filming difficulties did you encounter?
An association working on the memory and the history of Easter Island, approached me. For years it has tried to bring the words of the island elders to the foreground and to tell this painful story about the Chilean colonisation. These elders are the last living witnesses of this story. It was therefore very complicated for the directors who at the beginning had walls to overcome, the elders did not want to share. They did not want to stir up the painful past, some were still too upset, others refused out of modesty or sometimes under the pressure. There is also today’s relationship with Chile which pays its guilt money to Easter Island. The directors took a great deal of time approaching them and sometimes spent hours looking. Finally, and notably thanks to the association, the tongues set loose, the elders trusted us and gave in. For most of them, it was the first time that they had talked about it, it was extremely moving. The team also had to carry out verification work as the story does not exist anywhere else, not even in books. They met with historians to cross-check all these accounts and check the dates.
With a sensitive and new subject like this one, was it difficult to find broadcasters?
Yes. In France, if you mention Easter Island without talking about the Moai, no-one is interested. Our subject is on the reverse side of the postcard image and we do not want to talk about the pretty postcard image. As a result, I had to face closed doors at television channels, I was sent back and forth between them without ever having any positive responses. In the end France Ô and Outremer 1ère had faith in the subject and enabled its existence. I am very grateful to them for that. We therefore received little funding, we only succeeded in raising 125, 000 Euros. As a result, due to the lack of means, the crew only stayed three weeks on location, we would have liked to have stayed for longer on the island and to have had more archive images. Time was very limited. In addition, the crew had to do a huge amount of editing to camouflage the lack of images. Each shot was used, all the dailies are in the film. In the end however, even if the funding was lacking, we managed with the means at hand and the film exists today, that is the main thing! It was important to the witnesses. Those who wanted to see it are proud of it. But now that the story is said and written, they want to turn the page and start a new chapter.
Is it important to show such a film here at FIFO ?
Of course. The film makes sense at FIFO where it has the ability to be better understood, it moves the Polynesian public more deeply than the European public. Here, it is clear that people feel affected by the film, in comparison to a Parisian audience for example. I was pleasantly surprised to see that people had heard about this story that was completely unknown elsewhere in the world, the people in Polynesia have a relationship with the subject. There is therefore a real human, and not just historic, dimension. FIFO also enables us to create links with potential broadcasters. I already have several promises or in any case strong interest in our film, I hope that it does not stop there!