Arts Hub – by Stephanie South

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Strange Birds in Paradise
By Stephanie BySouth ArtsHub | Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Australians have such a fascination with the Kokoda Trail, the hardship, the comrade, the pain and the tragedy of ‘defending our shores’, but we know little about West Papua. And we know even less about the suffering of its gentle indigenous people inflicted by a genocidal regime.

Oh, “but it’s other people’s politics” is the sighed response, followed by a deep denial drink of beer. Well, put your beer down, go to the Melbourne International Film Festival and sit with filmmaker Charlie Hill-Smith for just under an hour and a half to be enlightened by the truths he reveals about how our neighbours have (are) being treated.

“This film is therefore a creative reaction to international silence and a cross-cultural response to neo-colonial tyranny.” – from Charlie Hill-Smith’s Director’s statement.

Hill-Smith’s approach to this documentary seems to have been an organic one, and obviously grown from his personal experience. The story tackles the ‘issue of West Papuan independence’ from a number of aspects, including the personal (both the director’s point of view and those of the locals) and the historical (to give you the context of the conflict, and reinforced with supporting evidence from news clips) As well as interviews and archival footage, a series of creative animations are featured, and do excellent job at providing you with emotional emphasis in parallel to giving a unique ‘West Papuan’ cultural feel to the story.

The emotional depth of the viewer’s journey is strengthened by tying in the importance of musical expression in West Papuan culture, and specifically how important musical celebration is to the healing process undergone by ‘prisoners of war’. The filmmakers did a great job in using several personal stories to enhance the impact of the pain experienced.

Hold on a minute, prisoners of war? Really? Is there a war raging in West Papua? Once you have watched Strange Birds of Paradise, you will have no doubt in your mind as to the answer to that question.
“Afloat in an extraordinary musical tradition from the West Papuan highlands, hearing stories of escape, oppression and exile from Jacob and Donny, listening to the defiant songs of murdered musician and independence hero Arnold Ap, Charlie confronts a basic question: how could these two vibrant cultures be at war and how can the rest of the world seemingly not care?”

The Production team behind this great documentary have a wealth of experience and are lead by:

Charlie Hill-Smith – Director: Charlie has been directing documentaries for over 13 years including the popular ‘Making of Ten Canoes’; a feature documentary for SBS.

Jamie Nicolai – Producer: Company Director of The House of Red Monkey Pty Ltd, Jamie has also done some acting – can you remember who he played in Bad Boy Bubby?

John Cherry – Producer: I noticed the quality of camera work in this documentary – or rather the lack of amateur mistakes – a good contribution to the production, as is evidence by his resume.

Angus Kemp – Director of Photography: This documentary was Angus’ second major stint as cinematographer, and shows real promise, with his filming style having grown since Two Minutes to Midnight and more recently, Unearthed.