Bikpela Bagarap is an independent documentary by Australian filmmaker David Fedele. The film explores the human face of illegal logging in Papua New Guinea, an island less than 200km from the northern tip of Australia, and is essential viewing for anyone who cares about the environment, the welfare of their fellow human beings, and the unsustainable future we are creating through corruption and greed. A story of the exploitation of people who find themselves forced into dealing with the problems of a world they never really chose to be a part of in the first place.
David Fedele: I had been to Papua New Guinea once before in 2006, where I spent 3 months traveling solo around the country, and made my first ever documentary called “PNG Style”. This was more a “film-by-accident” than anything else, as I had never picked up a video camera before, and used it as a way to document my experiences and combat loneliness. This film went on to win “Best Documentary” at Portobello Film Festival 2010.
Papua New Guinea is one of the most culturally diverse countries on Earth, with over 900 different languages and cultural groups. It occupies the Eastern half of the island of New Guinea and is home to one of the richest rainforests in the world. However, it today remains one of the few countries in the world that still allows the export of raw logs, and this is greatly exploited by Asian logging companies. The World Bank estimates that 70% of all logging in Papua New Guinea is illegal, although most unofficial sources put the rate even higher than that.
The issues raised in this film effect all of us, as most of the timber logged from Papua New Guinea ends up as timber decking and outdoor furniture in the “western world”, yet we have absolutely no idea about the story behind it.
When I decided to return to PNG in December 2010, I had the general idea of a film that I wanted to make – to document the “human face” of illegal logging in PNG, and give a voice to the local indigenous communities that are being exploited by Malaysian logging companies and corrupt politicians. But I had no idea how I was actually going to make this film. I just bought myself a ticket, and three weeks later found myself in the jungle of Papua New Guinea.
When I first arrived, I just started talking to people and tried to find out as much as I could about the issues. When I explained to people that I wanted to document their struggle, they were more than willing to help me in whatever way necessary, to ensure that their story be heard.
And wherever I went, I heard exactly the same stories. Customary landowners being forced to sign documents that they don’t understand, for the promise of “development” – fresh water, health and education, but these essential services were rarely provided. Traditionally, the local communities rely on the forest to survive, but their traditional hunting grounds are being destroyed, waterways polluted, and their way of life ruined forever.
My background is not in filmmaking at all, so I have never really been taught the “right” way to go about making documentary films. I am not interested in having a crew with me – just myself and a small camera. That’s how I like to work. Also, as this film was exploring such sensitive issues, I had to keep as low a profile as I could. A lot of the film was shot undercover in two of the main logging camps deep in the jungle, and the surrounding villages. The only way to access these camps and villages was on the logging roads themselves, travelling on the vehicles of the logging companies.
To avoid detection, I couldn’t stay in the logging camps for more than a few days at a time, so I found it difficult to follow particular characters throughout the film. Instead, I decided to combine many peoples’ stories into a narrative that could be followed. I wanted to give as many and varied people as possible the opportunity to be heard and have their stories told.
I am very proud of the resulting film BIKPELA BAGARAP (which loosely translates to “Big Damage”). I produced, funded, filmed and edited the film myself, and though this has provided me with many challenges, it has also allowed me to make exactly the film that I wanted to make.
The biggest challenge however about making a film like this totally independently (without a production company, commissioning editor or distributor), is now getting the film seen by as wide an audience as possible. I have made the film available to watch for free online, and am going to use human rights film festivals around the world to promote the film. It screened at its first festival last week (Agitprop Film Festival for Peoples’ Struggles – Manila, Philippines) and was extremely well received. I am looking forward to getting this film out into the world, to raise awareness of what is happening in Papua New Guinea.
Check out the trailer of Bikpela Bagarap below, and if you like what you see, go watch the full film by clicking on this link.
And don’t forget to follow the project on Facebook.