RODNEY SINAUNE'S FIGHT TO FILM PAPUA NEW GUINEA THROUGH INDIGENOUS EYES

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PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (February 21, 2000--The Independent/PINA Nius Online)---William Takaku is PNG's best known actor. He has appeared in a number of films for foreign directors including "Violent Earth," filmed in New Caledonia, and "Robinson Crusoe" with Pierce Brosnan, filmed near Madang.

PNG's own film producers are struggling to compete. A young Goroka-based filmmaker, Rodney Sinaune, is taking strength from the glory days of PNG cinema to pursue his dream of a viable film industry in the country.

Malum Nalu reports:

Those of us who grew up in the roaring '60s and '70s will know the joy of watching films on the big screen. Bruce Lee, James Bond, and those old black and white cowboys movies -- garnished with ice cream, popcorn, and cotton candy -- are now becoming a fading memory like those venerable haus piksas once scattered all over the country.

These days, with the advent of television, video, VCDs and the Internet, the movie projector has become as antiquated as the time-honored typewriter. Kids today have become virtual couch potatoes, intoxicated with daily doses of foreign programs like Neighbors, Bay Watch, and Mr. Bean.

The '70s was also an epoch of PNG classics like Wokabaut Bilong Tonten, Marabe, and the later Tukana: Husat I Asua, to name a few. Documentaries like First Contact, Shark Callers of Kontu, the Satirical Cannibal Tours, and Trobriand Cricket won acclaim both here and overseas.

There were also local productions on the likes of agriculture, health, family planning and small business -- destined for greatness. Sadly, as is the case with most things in PNG since 1975, things have fallen along the wayside.

Into a new millennium, a young Goroka-based filmmaker is taking strength from those glory days of PNG cinema to pursue his dream of a viable film industry in the country. And Rodney Sinaune, whose life story has all the ingredients of a movie script, is adamant that this isn't a far-fetched dream.

He's streetwise from selling newspapers at an early age, has business acumen garnered from coffee picking and selling, and been toughened after being ostracized by his own father because he wanted to become a filmmaker. Today, with state-of-the-art video equipment worth hundreds of thousands of kina, the prodigal son -- with a flair for creativity and the avant garde -- is out to make his mark.

And he has no qualms about his burning ambition: "I've always wanted to do a feature film in my life," says Sinaune, in his early 30s, from Marilakayufa village outside Goroka.

Sinaune, who is the interim deputy chairman of the PNG Moving Images Association -- a position he was elected to at the National Film Symposium in Goroka in 1995 -- strongly believes that the film industry is a viable one and can grow if given necessary government support.

He says in an interview: "If the Government seriously looks at the importance of this industry, it will help a lot in the development process. People will be educated if we use the mass media; they will become equal partners in development. There have been many productions made about PNG (by expatriates), but we are not supporting a local industry.

"People from overseas are gaining mileage out of us. We should have local content and participation. The need is there, the demand is there, but the Government needs to give proper direction.

"The Government should also look at setting up another TV station, as there's a lot of material being produced but no medium over which to broadcast. It should, perhaps, look at the creation of a National Film Commission. If the National Executive Council, through an Act of Parliament creates a National Film Commission, everything will be all right. The film industry will also employ a lot of people. The Government, for far too long, has overlooked the industry.

"Bureaucratic red tape is also a big problem. A lot of people have given up because there is no support.

'The National Film Institute (which burned down in Goroka in 1998 but is being rebuilt) is already in place. Papua New Guineans are known to be natural actors - just give them the chance.

"I know SBS (television in Australia) will be interested in buying PNG-made films because they're an ethnic station which broadcasts a lot of ethnic European material."

Sinaune adds that the missionary zeal of the now-defunct Office of Information should be rekindled. "The Office of Information concept in the 1970s was good," he says. "Officers carried projectors to rural areas and showed films, meaning that people actually participated in development. When the Government abolished the Office of Information, we started having problems because information on development wasn't going out to the people.

"The majority of PNG people live in the rural areas and they're not being informed enough. That's why we're having a lot of problems."

After leaving Asaroka Lutheran High School Film Institute, where he learned the basics of the art of filmmaking, his father threw him out of the family because he'd rather his son get a "respectable job like being a lawyer or a policeman." They never saw eye-to-eye for seven long years.

In 1990, Sinaune landed his first major job -- worth K 2,700 (US$ 880) -- when the Electoral Office in Goroka contracted him to do a documentary. He did his editing at the University of Technology where big sister Ruth -- a video professional together with her husband Bike Johnston -- worked.

However, Sinaune found to his dismay that he couldn't cash the K 2,700 check which was made payable to Niugini Piksa Production -- his name for his one-man operation. He had to register his operation formally as a company and then open a bank account under that name before he could start withdrawing any money. Welcome to the world of business!

Sinaune then taught himself basic bookkeeping and proceeded to shoot music video clips in Madang and Goroka. The jobs started rolling in and he scored major clients like the Goroka Industry Corporation and the Family Planning Association. "The work was slowly gaining momentum," he recalls.

In 1994, he applied for a K 50,000 (US$ 16,300) loan from the Rural Development Bank, all the time keeping his fingers crossed. "I had to pray for it," Sinaune, a devout Christian says. "I asked for a guarantee, and that guarantee came from the Lord."

That year, 1994, also saw the floating and subsequent devaluation of the kina, which saw the price of imported goods skyrocket. Sinaune couldn't get all the equipment he wanted, and at the same time, the money was coming in installments from the bank.

"CIC and some other clients were very generous, so we were able to get our equipment cleared through customs," he says. "The equipment included a Sony Betacam SP camera and lights, so we had the basic system in place.

"That was the opening of a new era for me, but, at the same time, I could never have foreseen the difficulties we would go through. I continued to use editing facilities at the National Film Institute, and all in all, I did about 15 productions until the NFI was burned down in 1998.

"We didn't know where to go, but fortunately, Chris Owen from the Institute of PNG Studies allowed me to use their facilities in Port Moresby, so I did two edits there. Last year, we embarked on a project to start our own office.

"We've spent about K 25,000 (US$ 8,150) on a combined house and office and it's almost complete. We've got air-conditioning, power, and furniture. We're looking at getting more studio equipment, but there's the liability to RDB, which we're still paying off.

"We're fully equipped with a set of field production equipment, so we can do anything. We're looking at going digital as soon as we pay off the loan, and I want to get a Betacam SX -- which is a combination of digital and analogue. This will include a post-production studio as well, and we're in close contact with Sony to get this equipment."

From humble beginnings in 1990, Sinaune's Niugini Pictures is slowly growing and he wants to spread his wings in the new millennium. "It took us 10 years to get to where we are," he says. "I started off with a wild dream and I now have assets of between K 200,000 (US$ 65,200) and K 300,000 (US$ 97,800). I'm happy doing business but I, as an individual, can't do much in PNG and that's what's frustrating me. What I plan to concentrate on now is more or less the motion picture approach.

"We independent filmmakers are struggling out there, but we're the ones who're keeping the industry going. We're trying to run art as a business, and it's quite difficult. It's not like mainstream business where you have the cash coming in all the time. And I'm not dong this just for the money, I'm dong it for the love of the art of filmmaking.

"We (in PNG) have enough technical expertise. It's always a case of trial and error, but the Government has to give us the initial break. If the current situation continues, we'll just keep on importing foreign material until who knows when."

Last year, Sinaune assisted film crews from CNN and Greenpeace with shooting environmental programs in the country. This month, he'll start shooting Liklik Asua, Bikpela Birua -- a feature on AIDS and STDS. The project is funded by the Canadian High Commission, AusAID, Health Department, Eastern Highlands Division of Health, and the Eastern Highlands Provincial Government.

Rodney Sinaune through his lens zooms in on a PNG, which will hopefully be more appreciative of the local film industry in this new millennium.

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