AUDIO: NZ filmmaker highlights New Caledonian mining in upcoming doco
Wednesday, October 9, 2013
AUCKLAND (Pacific Media Watch): Six years after starting his Cap Bocage documentary project in New Caledonia, New Zealand filmmaker Jim Marbrook will be ready to release the film mid-2014.
The documentary details an environmental dispute at a nickel mine on the eastern coast of Grand Terre, the main island of New Caledonia.
“The documentary is kind of a chronicle of that conflict,” Marbrook told Pacific Media Watch in a recent interview.
“Of course underneath that there are some deeper themes about how miners and how people involved in exploiting minerals relate to local populations – specifically indigenous populations,” Marbrook said.
In 2007, the Pacific Media Centre awarded Marbrook with a $10,000 dollar grant to get his documentary underway. Since then, he has also received a considerable grant from Creative New Zealand.
In total, Marbrook visited New Caledonia eight times in 2008, 2010 and 2011 in the process of making the documentary that he estimated would be 70-80 minutes long.
In the Pacific Media Watch interview, Marbrook also spoke about the differences of doing journalism in New Caledonia and New Zealand, the political future of New Caledonia, and how Cap Bocage related to his recent documentary, Mental Notes, which detailed the troubling history of New Zealand mental health care institutions.
Listen to the full interview – transcript below:
Daniel Drageset (DD), contributing editor of Pacific Media Watch: It’s been a few years since you started the work with Cap Bocage. What has happened since then?
Jim Marbrook (JM), documentary filmmaker: Well, I started doing Cap Bocage in 2008, and I’ve had quite a few trips back to New Caledonia. Unfortunately, the documentary has been side lined by two other works that I’ve had to finish. One of them is the feature-length documentary Mental Notes, and the other one is a fictional feature film that I’ve just co-produced with Four Nights Films called Genesis, which is based on a documentary I made in 2003. So those two big pieces of work got in the way, and we are at a rough-cut stage so I’m going back to revisit that and frame things a little bit differently. We’re looking for release sometime mid next year.
DD: What is Cap Bocage about?
JM: Cap Bocage is about, I guess you could call it an environmental dispute at a nickel mine on the east coast of Grande Terre, which is the main island of New Caledonia. It’s essentially a kind of a conflict between a local environmental group called Mee Rhaari. They protested after a landslide spilled a whole lot of nickel, cobalt, enrichened ore on to the coral reef there, so when it initially happened the company admitted responsibility for it. But the whole process of the clean-up was quite complicated and it involved a stand-off between the mine and the environmental group. If anything, the documentary is kind of a chronicle of that conflict of that process of protest. Of course underneath that there are some deeper themes about how miners and how people involved in exploiting minerals relate to local population – specifically indigenous populations.
DD: You’ve been keeping in touch with some of your participants in that documentary. What can you tell me about that?
JM: Well, I’m keeping in contact with the main participant who is Florent Eurisouké, and he’ll be coming out to New Zealand in about a month. I want to some of the footage and I want to touch bases with him. I know that things have changed slightly in New Caledonia. We’re also heading towards a kind of referendum I guess, as to the future of that country, and we’re at an interesting juncture at the moment because the president of Congress is a Kanak, Roch Wamytan. It’s very interesting! It’s the first time that happened, so who knows what direction it will go to. I just hope that the documentary can play a role in illustrating one part of the debate around primary industries. Because it’s a huge issue for New Caledonia; do you exploit the mineral wealth, because it’s the third biggest reserve of nickel in the world, do you exploit that, or can you exploit that in a safe and sane way? Us with our coal industry here we’re watching what happens to an industry when the price of that raw material drops. Anyone who has been in New Caledonia for a while knows that when the price drops, all sorts of things happen. You’re not in charge of the price, it’s world commodities markets, so it’s not that stable an industry.
DD: It seems to me you’ve made quite a leap from working on indigenous Kanak political and industrial rights to mental health care in New Zealand. What motivated you in doing such a leap?
JM: I think my work with mental health and with subjects that had mental health issues if you like – if that’s the right word – started in 2003 with a documentary called Dark Horse, which has since become a feature film that will come out next year. I guess in a way it was reporting on and examining health issues that came before the interest in the Pacific. I’ve been very, very interestedin some Māori approaches to health and healing, and I have followed people from Whanganui - Āti Haunui-a-Pāpārangi – people to Arizona and where they shared some of their approaches to health and to healing. That juncture between health and indigenous culture was huge. Dark Horse was based on a Māori man who had bipolar geneses [and] since passed away. I guess there’s been some interest in indigenous solutions and health that came before Cap Bocage, and in a way I’d also done some work in the French-speaking world so working in New Caledonia was an opportunity to explore that a little bit.
DD: So in a way it’s all connected, isn’t?
JM: Everything’s connected isn’t it, on some level?
DD: I would imagine there were big differences in working in New Caledonia and New Zealand, but where there any similarities as well?
JM: It felt very different actually. It felt like there was a different way things ran. It felt like there was a linguistic barrier – that’s for certain – but that linguistic barrier was also complicated by the fact that there were about 20 local languages and French and I’m an anglophone, so there were some challenges. I think the way that things seemed to happen in New Caledonia, it’s interesting. It still is a country that has quite a strong colonial heritage, so the structures that were built as the colony was established, they’re still there to a very large degree. Any French person that’s working there get double wages, actually 1.8 times something like that, the wages that anyone else gets. That’s the overseas allowance. So it’s a bit of an earner if you’re a French person and go and work there, and they get some really good conditions. If you go into any little restaurant in a village, you’ll see the policemen there having their free lunch. So there’s all these really, these conditions of inequality that are just built into the system there – these perks that people get if they’re working in the colonies. And I find that quite curious.
DD: Did you find that challenging when working in New Caledonia?
JM: I did. I found the attitude to journalists quite interesting. I found that people; they found it a little bit strange to accept that someone wouldn’t give them questions in advance in certain cases. It felt to me like there was an interesting relationship between the stuff that got published and your approach as a journalist. I’m not explaining myself all that well, but you know, it took me a long time to get an interview with the mining department there, and that went through a whole lot of different stages of ‘what do you want to ask’ and ‘yes, we can talk about that, but we can’t talk about that’. As a documentary maker, it felt very different than the way you would approach a minister here, or to the way that, say, Michel Rocard, the Prime Minister of France at the time of the  Matignon Accords, the way he was completely open about giving me an interview as well. It was very interesting. It’s a small place too, so you could understand some of that guardedness and reticence I suppose.
DD: It just seems to me it’s quite a bit more complicated in doing journalism in New Caledonia. Would you say so?
JM: I think it i…well, I think it is complicated if you’re a journalist there as well. This is a country where, as I understand it, the old premier of the country Jacques Lafleur used to cast an editorial eye of the daily paper before it went to press. That’s the way I understand it. That’s what’s been told me. Now, he passed away a couple of years ago, so we can’t ask him. I think in a way, because there are fewer advertisers around, that big corporations and their advertising is probably important for news outlets and I think at the moment there is some questions about the ownership of the daily newspaper of New Caledonia. As I see it, it’s been bought by some businessmen who have interests in mining and interest in all sorts of commerce in New Caledonia, whereas it was owned by a French news organisation prior to, I think it was last year. So those issues that I guess we’re dealing with here with ownership of press are very real issues in New Caledonia because it’s a smaller place. I guess it’s there’s less wiggle room if you like.
DD: You’ve been awarded with various prizes for your films Jim. What do these prizes mean to you?
JM: I think primarily they’re ways of getting the films seen a bit more, that’s the main thing that I think has been helpful – to increase the profile of the films. Often when you’re dealing in issues – in subject matters – that can be a bit marginalised, and mental health is one of those issues, that if you do have some recognition for it, it does help develop and publicise the film, so primarily that really.
DD: What’s in store next for you Jim?
JM: Genesis is the feature film, [which] is coming out next, and I’m hoping it will get a festival release somewhere. I’m going to be finishing Cap Bocage and I want to find a way of sending that out into the world, and I have some other projects. I have some other projects. I’ve finished another feature film script last year, so I’m working on that as well getting some development finance for that, so it’s a busy time.
DD: How do you get time to be a filmmaker and also be a full time lecturer at AUT?
JM: Well, I’ve taken some leave. I’ve had a little bit of sabbatical time as well, and I try and time those periods when I can take leave to coincide with work. I also have a very understanding family, who give me a lot of leeway. Maybe a little bit too much.
DD: Good! Are you considering going to the Pacific again to do any films?
JM: I would love to! I would really love to go and do more work in the Pacific. It’s a real challenge financing for Pacific-based projects. My sister is just working on a show on Pacific Island food, and she’s done quite a bit of shooting up there. Talking to her about some of the stories, and some of the people she’s met, has kind of given me the hankering to go back and do some more work. I’d love to go to PNG, Vanuatu and the Solomons. I’ve really, really enjoyed – for me working in New Caledonia, it was my first real contact with Melanesian society. I’ve really, really enjoyed observing, recording stuff and also interacting with Melanesian culture, Kanak culture, so I’m hoping I can explore that a little more. It also seems to be a territory, or an area of the Pacific, that’s underreported. So I’d love to develop more and do more of that.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 New Zealand Licence.