We have just successfully finished our trip to Papua New Guinea, and are now resting comfortably in beautiful Cape Town, South Africa as we prepare for the next leg of our journey. While we get the rest our bodies are craving, and while the communications available to us are good, we thought we’d take the time to share with all of you a bit of our experiences from the single most memorable shoot of our lives.
Firstly, the intention of this trip was to document the native people in PNG with a focus on their close relationship with water, and their innate resilience to many diseases (such as malaria), which would kill most of us.
To start our journey, we took a few flights to get to Wewak, PNG. From here we drove for 4 hours to a village on the edge of the legendary Sepik River, where we boarded dugout canoes. After a 2-hour ride down the Sepik, we came to the beginning of a trail where we began a 2-hour hike into the jungle with all our gear. Fortunately, the village we were headed to sent all the men to help us carry the gear down the path. This is where we met the first group we were to document. They arrived in bare feet, and armed with machetes. To carry the heavy cases they promptly hacked down some small trees, then used bark to quickly fashion ropes to tie the trees (now poles) to the cases, so that two people could comfortably carry the weight through the jungle.
As we made our way down the path, the village slowly materialized one grass hut at a time. The villagers came out to the pathway and welcomed us all along our way. Finally, we got to the bamboo and grass hut we would be calling home for the next few nights, surrounded by children, men, and women, wishing us a very warm welcome. We had officially arrived in ‘Yamok’ village.
The reason for our going to Yamok was to document a coming of age ceremony that occurs once every 6-8 years. The ceremony involves the scarification of the boys, so that their bodies will resemble crocodiles. The cutting part of the ritual takes place in the Spirit House, where outsiders, women, and children are not allowed – only initiated men. As many of our followers know, our main camera / Movi operator is Gabrielle Nadeau – a woman. The production had managed to achieve access unlike ever before in order to get our cameras in there during the cutting, but Gabrielle still had to undergo some extra steps to be allowed in. This came in the form of an offering ceremony in which she had to give a betel nut branch to the village chief. This was preceded with the slaughtering of a pig with the use of a spear. With the village chief’s approval, we were all set to document this fascinating ritual.
The ritual began with the initiated men dancing in and outside the Spirit House area. They began around 3 o’clock in the afternoon, and continued this all through the night until dawn the following day. This presented us with a great opportunity to obtain some incredible aerial images using the octocopter, the Movi brushless gimbal, and the RED Epic. From above we were able to move along with them as they passed from inside the Spirit House perimeter, to the outside, and then lower altitude to an elegant dolly alongside the entire tribe. Although the remote controlled aerial system was completely foreign technology to them, they were so happy to experience it airborne and to see the images we were capable of achieving with them. A funny thing happened during this part of the filming where one of the men near the monitor where Gabrielle was remotely operating the Movi from began to get quite upset. Thinking it had something to do with the drone’s filming, Gabrielle had the system pilot, Chuck, perform an immediate landing. It turned out that the man was not upset with the system or the images, but rather that the children and women were too close to the screen. Being near the screen, they were able to see inside the Spirit House perimeter, which is off-limits to them, and is a taboo. And so, several men created a wall with their bodies around Gabrielle and her ground station, so that we could continue our work.
We went to sleep that night under our bug nets listening to the chanting and dancing as it went all night long. In the morning, the boys were brought inside the perimeter, and the cutting ceremony began. Instead of flying the octocopter during the cutting (which we were concerned would blow dust into the cuts), we converted the Movi M10 to handheld mode and were able to achieve closer, more intimate, dolly and jib styled shots. The cutting was done with razor blades, and happens on the front torso, back torso, and legs of the boys. We cannot begin to imagine the level of pain experienced during the process. However, they take absolute pride in the initiation, and no yells of pain are emitted by any of them. They now heal for 3 months inside the Spirit House under the supervision of the men. During this time, they will also learn the essential skills they need to have as men – how to build a house, gardening, finding a wife, etc.
We left Yamok feeling different ourselves, having experienced such an amazing ritual – a ritual performed with an astonishing level of pride and importance.
After more hiking, boating, a small chartered flight, and more boating, we arrived in an even more remote village called ‘Nin’ (pronounced Nine) This place had not had a visitor since 1996 when a missionary came and built a school. It was good that he did that, because that is where they had us sleep ☺. The focus here was on day-to-day village life, as well as their resilience to disease. As for low level aerial cinematography, we managed some really elegant shots of villagers paddling dugout canoes in the river, using the river for household chores and cleaning, boys climbing trees for coconuts, and wonderful landscapes to show off the breath-taking virgin rain forest in the area. The shoot was relatively straight forward, but offered us a glimpse into the everyday lives of these people living completely off the grid and far away from any communications.
Finally, after some more boating and flying, we crossed the country to Alotau to take advantage of a traditional boating festival in order to document the sort of boats that could have been used in our ancestors’ history as humans made their way to various parts of the planet. It was here that the new Movi camera gimbal really shone. In the past, when post-stabilization was part of the process, it became difficult getting shots over open water without the horizon showing because it would make tracking virtually impossible. However, now with the Movi brushless gimbal on our octocopter, and with no need to post-stabilize the footage from the RED Epic, we were able to do complicated movements that would have been impossible otherwise, or offered mixed results. We nailed some impressive flights at this final PNG location, and it was a real thrill to hear over the headset, the director at the ground station monitor yelling, “Yes!,” and knowing that what he was seeing was the actual shot as it will exist, straight from the camera. As the director said when we were packing up all the kit to get ready for South Africa, “We achieved 100% of what we set out to do in Papua New Guinea.” Not bad considering it was one of the harshest environments on our list of places for these upcoming shoots.
I am sorry for the long posting here, but Papua New Guinea was quite literally the most amazing shooting experience we’ve had so far. We are proud to have been part of this shoot, and thrilled to be leaving with stunning aerial footage unlike anything else. Look forward to our upcoming stories from here in South Africa and Namibia.
- SkyMotion Video