It explores the views of the Mpur community, West Papua, on development plans for their region which will affect their land, livelihoods and culture.
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Mnukwar: bringing about change through film-making
Armed with medium-size video cameras and other film-making paraphernalia when they are out and about making films in different areas of West Papua, the Mnukwar crew often attracts local people’s attention. Knowing their background in environmental activism, some people think they are just showing-off with expensive gadgets and their interest will wane once the novelty wears off.
Set up in 2007 by several environmental and social justice activists, Mnukwar (a type of the Bird of Paradise as well as the name of the old capital of Manokwari) focuses on facilitating change through making film. Mnukwar staff are not too bothered by such cynical comments because the target for Mnukwar is not the film itself.
Being grassroots activists, the Mnukwar crew are very much aware of the urgent need for local people to be able to express themselves freely and without fear of intimidation. For many years, Papuans have been living under the threat of being stigmatized as rebels, making communications with communities difficult. Communication, as the communities know from previous experience, can sometimes mean interrogation.
Mnukwar uses a variety of methods to build a rapport with a community, including showing other films to villagers as a way of introducing what can be done in film. More often than not, once a rapport is built, curiosity about the gadgets and the process of film-making itself overcome people’s anxiety about talking. Then people start to engage.
Working with people is never easy. On a number of occasions, villagers have turned NGOs away from carrying out any activity in their place because, based on past experience, ‘NGOs do not keep their word’, ‘NGOs are good at taking data but never share it with the villagers, let alone giving anything back or being accountable for what they do’, ‘ NGOs who come to villages with short-term or one-off projects with no future perspectives only make villagers confused’.
Mnukwar has learned a great deal from others’ experiences. At the beginning of any programme, Mnukwar always tries to make it clear that they are not organisation which provides grants or income generation projects, but a group of people who are attempting to facilitate learning about peoples’ rights and citizenship through film-making. During the film-making, the Mnukwar crew works closely with the people involved, to avoid the situation where the people are only the object of the film. Knowledge is reproduced in film format and the people are consulted. Film is also a powerful form of communication and an important means of learning in a society where interest in reading is very low.
Films about Climate Change
Through various work and activities on the issue of climate change, the Mnukwar crew has learned that climate change is not a phenomenon that is easy to capture on film. When asked straight questions such as “what is climate change or what signs of climate change have you observed?”, people are puzzled. Climate change is simply a foreign idea. The observations about climate people can share are about the inconsistency of the seasons and the impact of this on their livelihoods.
What about ‘global warming’ and ‘climate justice’? For many communities, these are just sound bites with little meaning.
There is a long way to go before we will be able to see people in Papua linking global phenomena to their day-to-day living. And yet, it is never too late to learn and one can start using whatever tools are to hand. This is the principle of Mnukwar in making-film too: there is no need to wait until you have the proper equipment, which is often expensive, to make a film. The Mnukwar crew have been teaching people how to use any media able to record moving images, such as a simple mobile phone, to create a film. Empowering people does not need to be expensive.