Inside the Doc: ‘Aux armes tahitiens’ directed by Jacques Navarro Rovira
The public were offered the opportunity to meet the director Jacques Navarro-Rovira. Many attended beneath the Maison de la Culture banyan tree to discuss his documentary Aux armes Tahitiens. Interviewed by the journalist Caroline Perdrix, he answered questions from the public about his film, selected in the competition category.
A film for ‘those we don’t discuss’
Aux armes Tahitiens is a documentary uniting several accounts by former enlisted Tahitians who joined French troops during the Second World War. We remember of course Pacific battalions but “other Polynesians went as airmen, marines, resistance fighters, parachutists,” Jacques reminds us. It is these former fighters that “we don’t discuss,” that he wanted to honour by enabling them to speak and finally open up for some. These memories, sometimes painful and poignant, are illustrated by historical audiovisual archives, some of which were previously unreleased.
More than a documentary, a film in remembrance
To begin with, Jacques Navarro-Rovira anticipated a 52 min documentary. He read the book Tamari’i Volontaires by Jean-Christophe Shigetomi and found “a gold mine with all these extraordinary stories” to exploit. Everything was interesting and deserved to be shared! Lengthy work began researching and sorting through historical archives. It was also above all necessary, to meet these former fighters. Some returned to the fenua and others remained in France, when they didn’t die in combat. Each encounter was moving. These were important sources of information that should be transmitted to younger generations so that they know what their ancestors did for them, for us Tahitians. In the end, there was so much to say, and because Jacques wanted this information to be available to everyone, he decided to make a fictional documentary in the end. This format requires long, veritable writing in order, “to be able to convey this 90 minute documentary more easily to the general public”. Some found that “it’s a bit too long” whilst for others this was not the case. The most important thing is that this documentary exists, as it is intended above all to be a film in remembrance of all these unknown Polynesians who volunteered.
The journalist Caroline asked pertinent questions to the point that when it was the turn of the public there were no more questions. So she asked Jacques: ‘Do you have a question that you would like to answer but that you have never been asked?’ Jacques smiled, ‘At the start of the week I was asked if I had any anecdotes to share regarding the filming.’ And he had some, many even, but the one that he decided to share with the public is about a Tahitian fighter buried in a military cemetery in Vercors in France. ‘The cemetery had thousands of graves and we had to find the one belonging to the Tahitian fighter André Vernier.’ How? So he began to read the inscriptions on each headstone. Lost amongst all these crosses in lines, one cross attracted his attention with a necklace of shells hanging on it. It was a Tahitian, the one we were looking for…the Tahitian who has not been forgotten!