Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship: Paul Wolffram

The flow of great content continues from our Fejos fellows! Dr. Paul Wolffram was awarded a Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship in 2014 to aid filmmaking on What Lies That Way? We are proud to share the following trailer and blog post for his project.

WHAT LIES THAT WAY – Official trailer from Paul Wolffram on Vimeo.

What Lies That Way?

Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship

Production Stage.

January 3 – February 25, 2015

The production period of this project was undertaken in the months of January and February 2015. The cinematographer and I were able to spend almost seven weeks in the Lak region of Southern New Ireland, Papua New Guinea. In an environment where transportation and communication are often unreliable we were very fortunate to complete the production stage without any significant problems. The cinematographer and I both managed to maintain good health and returned to New Zealand in late February without contracting malaria. This is the first time I have returned from Lak region without malaria! Much of our video, audio and computer equipment did not return in such good order. The heat and humidity of the rain forest played a heavy toll on both of our audio recorders, one of our cameras, an external hard drive, and the computer we took to log footage. Fortunately, I anticipated the conditions and was able, through the support of this grant, to take backup hard drives and spares for the other essential equipment. I have never taken so much electronic equipment into this region before and providing power to the equipment also presented a significant challenge. We were able to recharge most of our equipment on a daily basis using a solar panel. We shot several hundred hours of footage totaling almost three terabytes of audio and video recordings.

The proposal for the film involved my own initiation into the sorcery practice locally known as Tena Buai. The Tena Buai master whom I hoped would conduct this initiation with me and guide me through the process was insistent that I actually initiate with a more senior sorcerer. Fortunately, I had previously met this master and he was also happy to conduct the initiation process. The initiation itself was a particularly arduous undertaking. I was required to fast in isolation in the rain forest for four nights and five days. During this period of no food and no water I experienced extreme dehydration. I consumed the Buai substances on the second day and was able to endure the initiation process without incident. Throughout the initiation I was frequently visited by the master sorcerer and his assistance. The cinematographer visited the location every second day to film key processes and I was able to record some of the isolation stages myself with fixed cameras.

The insights and understandings gained through this process, the weeks of preparation in the region before the initiation and the two weeks in the region following the initiation, combined to form an amazing experience. This experience of deep engagement with another way of thinking about the world, spirituality and shamanistic practice has been captured in some unique footage and sound recordings. As this account suggests, this was an extreme experience, and one that I only felt able to undertake following what is now more than 15 years of working with that Lak people. The Fejos fellowship allowed me to conduct this highly participatory oriented research with adequate funding support to cover many of the potential contingencies that arose in the course of this fieldwork.

Post-Production Stage.

July 2015 – May 2016

Returning from Papua New Guinea in late February 2015 I was only able to backup footage before returning to teaching duties between March and June 2015. With the support of the fellowship and my host institution I was able to dedicate a total of six months on the post-production of this film from July – December. I spent a total of four of these six months logging, syncing, and preparing the footage for editing. This process took much longer than I anticipated. This was in part due to the addition of conforming footage from earlier shoots into a usable editing format. It was late October 2015 before I was able to begin the first assembly process and late November before editing proper began. Working with a very experienced supervisory editor, Annie Collins, from the early stages of logging and binning I was able to push through the early labor intensive stages. I have also been fortunate enough to have the experience of a renown local producer, Catherine Fitzgerald, who co-produced my last feature documentary.

Editing continued into 2016 and was finally completed with a ‘locked off’ film in May. Between May and October final coloring, sound design, and audio mixing were conducted. The film has also been subtitled in English, German, French and Italian with the assistance of Victoria University of Wellington’s translation services.

In November I returned to my host communities in the Lak region and was fortunate enough to be able to screen the film for all the key participants over several weeks. The film was met with much interest and has certainly invigorated interest in the traditional practices associated with Buai shamanism throughout the region.

Final Comments

This has been an incredible projet that has resulted in a unique film work that explores not only the spirituality of the Lak people but also my own ongoing relationship with the people as an ethnographer and film maker. I believe the film has the potential to reach a wide viewership, and to engaged both ethnographic viewers and a general audience.

I would like to take this opportunity to once again thank the Wenner-Gren Foundation and the Fejos Fellowship team for your support.

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