Four filmmakers were guests at a round table discussion at the FIFO on the role of documentary films in raising awareness. Each of them explained the long time it takes to build trust, to speak out, and their hopes that with their work, things will evolve and change. 

Olivier Pollet, Lucile Guichet-Tirao, Dean Gibson and Briar March have all made documentaries on explosive social issues: colonization and the excesses of fishing for Olivier, ice consumption and its impacts for Lucile, the incarceration of aboriginal populations for Dean, and rising sea levels and climate change for Briar. 

When Olivier Pollet directed Canning Paradise, he wanted to “show and understand“, “The fishery resources of Papua New Guinea were destroyed because of tuna boats that came from the Philippines. They were moving all the canneries from the Philippines to Papua New Guinea. I was concerned about that at the time. We talk about development, but isn’t that a regression? As I did not understand this paradox, I decided to go there”. He discovered that this industry had grown from 400,000 tons of tuna per year in the 1950s to 4 million today and that the population was suffering from this industrial fishing. Today, Olivier Pollet is delighted to explain that the documentary continues to be broadcast and viewed: “In some places, canneries have not been able to implant. It gives hope.” That first documentary led him to make the second: Ophir won the grand prize at the FIFO 2020. “These communities asked us to work with them on the history of Bougainville. The film is about colonization and the attempt of a mining company to settle on the island, which led to a civil war. “We traveled for two years around the world to look for secret relationships that might exist before we went to film the interviews.” The film is accompanied by an educational platform that allows access to the resources of the documentary: the documents and reports found, interviews, videos … Olivier Pollet found that words are liberating and can touch the collective conscience.

Lucile Guichet-Tirao presented Sana, the crystal that consumes, at the FIFO 2022. As a journalist, she is stunned by the “hallucinating” statistics, and a consumption “which progresses in an incredible way“. “For a year, we followed three people in their struggle to try and overcome their addiction to ice.We don’t have the power to change things, but we did shed some light on the facts of society, we did the job. It’s good to feel useful, and if not, who is going to talk about minorities and drug addicts?” She became a journalist to “relay the voices of those who are not heard,” and wanted to tell the story of the ice problem and all its consequences: delinquency, violence, the destruction of families. “Its selection at the FIFO allowed us to talk about it. The film was shown to state and local authorities and associations, who then collectively queried what could be done. But a year later, nothing has happened. There is a project for a rehab center but for only 20 beds and we think that there are approximately 18,000 consumers. We are completely disconnected from reality, but we have to accept that it’s out of our hands.” 

Dean Gibson, an Australian director, presents Incarceration Nation a competing film at the FIFO this year, “In Australia we talk a lot about statistics, data, reports… The country is very good at reporting but not at action. That’s my motivation. When you go to the parliamentary library, you see piles of reports on deaths in custody or on the number of aborigines behind bars. I didn’t want to make another film that would end up on a shelf next to the reports. We wanted to bring the statistics to life and shock people”. His motivation: “that police brutality would never happen again.”

Briar March presented her first film at the FIFO in 2010: Te Henua e Noho – There once was an island, shows the consequences of climate change with the rising waters on the island of Taku just off the coast of Papua New Guinea. “Films give statistics and say what will happen. But the community there is a unique one, were they going to have to leave their island because of the rising waters? To leave everything: their land, their culture… It was a powerful thing. I wanted to make this film as a human story, to talk about climate change from a universal and human perspective.” The film has travelled far and wide and this small community now knows that their story has been heard elsewhere in the world. 

For these four filmmakers, their goal is to spread the word and build bridges to generate discussions, sharing and better understanding.

Olivier Pollet, director and member of the jury

“Meeting people and understanding the world”

How did you become a director?

I started by studying history and anthropology and then I trained as a journalist in Australia. When I finished my studies, I became interested in investigative journalism and at the same time I’ve always had a passion for documentaries. I grew up watching the Planet channel and I thought it would be a great life to go out and meet people, to meet subjects and to try to understand the world. An Australian investigative journalist, who was also our teacher, once showed us a YouTube video of a Papuan chief telling the story of what was happening on his land: land grabbing, multinationals coming to exploit the resources, women falling into prostitution. We talked about it in class and this teacher encouraged me to go to Papua New Guinea because nobody wanted to go there.

Did you take his advice?

It’s considered a complicated and dangerous country, there are 850 languages… All this is both true and false, but I didn’t know anything about it and I wondered what legitimacy I would have if i went there. At the same time, I realized the extent of the story in this YouTube video: it talked about development and progress, but we see the worst dynamics with the destruction of resources, of the land, of society. We talk about progress but in the end it’s a general impoverishment of the population. 

Did you finally go there?

I started to contact the communities and an NGO. As a good little student, I sent them a hundred questions and the director of this NGO told me that all my questions were interesting, he saw that I was passionate about the subject and he told me to come. They would house me, feed me and help me to go and meet the people. At first, I wasn’t expecting to make a documentary like Canning Paradise. I had only made a few two or three minute videos in college, taken a course on the basics of video production… So I taught myself everything. I was also thinking of partnering with a Papuan student for this story: him with his inside view and me with my outside view. But it didn’t work out that way at all, I ended up teaching in Papua New Guinea! I made very strong relationships with students and we stayed in touch. We collaborated on short films and they encouraged me to come back to make the colonial history of Bougainville (the documentary Ophir).

What does Papua New Guinea mean to you today?

It is a part of my life! I didn’t choose the country, things just happened this way, perhaps it was fate. I wasn’t particularly determined to make films about this country, but after a while you come to better understand the cultural codes, the languages, then trust is established and there are so many stories to tell.

Do you have other projects today?

We often think that a documentary ends once the editing is done and we move on to something else. But distribution is just as important and as much work as creation. I’ve been working on this for years and I want to keep it alive. Ophir has won 30 awards, it has been shown in 45 countries, in 130 festivals, which is wonderful! The research took years and we had so much material for this documentary that the idea was born to create a platform. I am now working on the distribution of the platform. I wanted to make new documentaries but I didn’t have the time. And then when you come out of a huge project like that, you are tired, physically, emotionally… It’s a huge struggle to make a doc. Today, I have a lead for another project but I’m going to take a little break to think about it.

Lucie Rabréaud – FIFO