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Getting to know Jean-Marie Tjibaou

We have the opportunity to understand a man’s path in the film Au nom du père, du fils et des esprits in the official competition at FIFO. Following his son, Emmanuel Tjibaou, we discover the different dimensions of this politician who marked the history of New Caledonia, but whose journey remains obscure. The film is also very topical raising fundamental questions at a time when Caledonians are on the brink of determining their future.

The handshake of the leader of the independence movement Jean-Marie Tjibaou and the loyalist Jacques Lafleur on 26th June 1988, during the Matignon Accords, and the murder of the great Kanak politician a year later are deeply engraved in people’s memories. Who exactly was Jean-Marie Tjibaou? Through this film, Au nom du père, du fils et des esprits, his son Emmanuel wanted to reveal his personality, ‘examine his path’. ‘My children are growing up and need to know who my father was, just as all children in New Caledonia need to know,’ he believes. To this end, Emmanuel offers to be our guide: ‘ I didn’t want what I or the natives questioned have to say to be filtered by someone else.’ It’s also an opportunity for him to listen to what people have to say who worked with his father at the seminary, in Vanuatu, in Larzac, friends, fellow travellers and members of the family that he had never had the opportunity to ask these questions. ‘I used the microphone that I was given’, he admits smiling, enabling him ‘to learn many things’.

Light shed before the New Caledonian independence referendum

We discover even more, about both the public dimension and his private life; we discover how Jean-Marie Tjibaou met his wife, how he got into politics, how he got on with his brothers…Through him we discover or rediscover the troubled and violent history of Le Caillou (New Caldedonia). Emmanuel Tjibaou insisted that the film was released in New Caledonia before the referendum on self-determination on 4th November 2018, ‘not to steer the debate, but to gain insight so we don’t stay blocked on a political level. The documentary shows an individual with all kinds of questions and many people identified with that.’ He describes how he received testimonies from Caledonians who changed their minds thanks to the film, hearing these things that had not been heard until then. It is also the result of extensive work in the archives conducted by the director Dorothée Tromparent at the National Audiovisual Institute. Without images, ‘history can be summarised concisely’; these archives ‘add substance to the events’ and show, once again, that it is above all a ‘path, of perpetual questions. With the Internet we sometimes think we have the world in our hands, but no, humans are complex.’

Will the film have a similar impact to the one in New Caledonia? Emmanuel Tjibaou is already ‘happy that the documentary has been selected, because there is a history between my father and French Polynesia – independence fighters, including Oscar Temaru, helped him to get New Caledonia on the list of territories to be decolonised, in 1986, notably by accommodating him in Harlem’. And he is convinced that the story, the issues addressed in the film will speak to Polynesians. Emmanuel Tjibaou finds common ground with Pouvanaa a Oopa: ‘They were ahead, well aware of our insularity and the mechanisms through which the French state generated relationships of domination.’ For him, Jean-Marie Tjibaou is one of those men who have a ‘vision and who set the wheels in motion so that the reality changes’. This informative and sensitive documentary presents us with this journey.

FIFO – Elodie Largenton