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A brilliant documentary about a unique set of people.
domellor30 January 2005
I lived in PNG for four years and have a house up in the Mt. Hagen area which is where the documentary was filmed. Therefore, I am in a position to say that this is simply a brilliant piece of work that captures the life and culture of an amazing group of people. During the last millennium, time appears to have stood still here while the rest of the world has moved through the progressive technological ages. There is a lot of black humour in the documentary with some seriously funny scenes and yet it highlights some very real and serious issues. What other documentary will show live coverage of a full scale tribal warfare of warriors armed with bows and arrows? Anybody can enjoy this documentary and I really recommend it because PNG is truly the land of the unexpected.
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The advent of modernity & capitalism
gut-625 September 2006
Warning: Spoilers
There is an old joke about two African-Americans who come across a booth that says "Turn yourself white for $1". Seeing this as a solution to their hassles, they decide to pool their resources (50c each) on the proviso that the one who goes first will emerge from the booth and (exploiting his new whiteness) obtain $1 to give to the second guy. The first guy puts his $1 in the slot, enters the booth and emerges with white skin, Caucasian features, a briefcase in hand and wearing a business suit. "Hey, it really works!" says the impressed second guy, "Now you give me a dollar." "Get a job, Niger" replies the first guy.

Such is the apparent attitude of the half-caste Joe Leahy, a product of a union between the first white explorers of the PNG highlands and a local woman. Joe, wealthy owner of a coffee plantation, lives in western luxury in a large house with a satellite dish on his roof and large cars in his garage. Meanwhile the Ganiga tribespeople he only half belongs to, and appears to half despise, live a subsistence lifestyle augmented by the 50 cents/bag they earn picking coffee berries.

Joe understands enough of the tribespeople's primitive customs and lifestyle to participate in their ceremonies, enough to barely contain the inevitable envy his wealth generates and maintain his exploitative relationship with them. He essentially bribes the big men of the tribe into getting the tribe's co-operation with joint venture deals, the dream of future wealth and gifts such as his aging truck. But not all the young men are satisfied with their lot. Some see through the tawdriness of his bribes, and feel they should concentrate on their own subsistence farms rather than pick plantation coffee for a pittance. When the coffee price plummets just as the crop is ready to pick after years of waiting, Joe is forced to cut wages even further to make the plantation profitable.

Joe clearly seems himself as better than the tribespeople, more intelligent, more ambitious and more successful. He is above their tribal aggression and silly superstitions. This does not make Joe a particularly sympathetic character. Joe's demands for sacrifices from the already impoverished tribespeople make the viewer gag, when put beside his own extravagant wealth. It sticks in the craw when, at a tribal ceremony, they offer Joe gifts such as a supermarket packet of sugar or alive pig, gifts which probably represent significant sacrifices to the tribespoeple, but nothing to Joe. Joe is also seen discussing the tribespeople's obstinacy with his elderly and largely deaf white uncle, who sympathises with Joe and calls the tribespeople "bastards" for not picking the coffee. This doco could easily have been edited as a simple straightforward story of the half-white man's exploitation of the noble savage.

Except that this is real life, not some idiot Rousseauian fantasy, and the film-makers deserve credit for telling the full story. Joe IS better than the tribespeople, and their prosperity depends on him, even if they don't fully appreciate it. When two nearby tribes start fighting, the Ganiga join in with their allies, to Joe's anger and disgust. The coffee beans on the plantations, including the joint venture plantation, is left to rot on the trees as the ignoble savages start fighting and dying with their primitive but deadly bows and arrows. Joe has lost control of the tribe. His mock funeral ceremony for the plantations, aimed at getting the tribe to realise the cost of their folly, is taken as a grievous insult, and in true western style culture-of-complaint whining, one tribesman demands financial compensation for the emotional injury. Joe is forced to abandon everything and move to Australia while the tribesmen continue to fight and the plantations turn to weed gardens. Some tribesmen think they can manage the plantations themselves, but without Joe they are utterly incapable.

In summary, this fascinating story tells in miniature the warts and all universal story of the advent of modernity and capitalism to savages. Yes, it can be exploitative, the success of the capitalists breeds resentment, and the path to prosperity is not always smooth. But it is also a force for peace and progress, and a hell of a lot better for the people than the primitive, barbaric, superstitious cultures it replaces.
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Top Notch!
icynoise17 January 2009
This film is possibly the best documentary that I have ever seen. I do not think that the people who made it ever had any idea of how complex their story would end up becoming. And the fact that the camera just happened to be where the action was and filming over at least a five year period is amazing. I do not want to say anymore about the film just that if you can ever get the chance to see it, and you like documentary films, you should really try to see it. From a technical standpoint I am sure that it is not without some flaws, however it ends up being a brilliant and honest commentary on many complex levels of human suffering and greed and even world trade. And I really think that they just thought they were going to make a film about coffee.
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