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A Distant Thud in the Jungle
Directed by Céline Rouzet
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“We fell for these promises and gave away our land… You can’t destroy everything and get away with it. You too will be destroyed.” — Homai Lambiawi

In the highlands of Papua New Guinea, a group of families perform traditional dances and songs. But they are not celebrating a local festival. Instead, these dancers are paid to perform for tourists, who point cameras in their faces and marvel at people who they romanticize as pre-modern and simple, with few cares in the world.

Life in the highlands, though, is far from care-free. In the village of Hides 4 (named for a colonial explorer and a petroleum lease), an ExxonMobil gas plant flares through the night, its fenced-in compound off-limits for locals. Seduced by promises of nice houses, free food and riches from gas royalties, some families, like the Lambawis, gave up their land for the LNG plant. Tony Lambawi made an agreement with ExxonMobil, thinking it was for the best. Now, Tony is dead and his relatives live in poverty and misery. His brother Homai is continually rebuffed whenever he tries to approach the company for the money the family is owed.

Meanwhile, at an Independence Day celebration, local leaders berate the people of Hides 4 for wanting compensation, exhorting them to give up more land free to the state in the name of development and future benefits.

A DISTANT THUD IN THE JUNGLE captures how one project—in a place idealized by westerners as “unspoiled”—has damaged the local environment, plunged residents into poverty, and eroded social norms.

Director Céline Rouzet first visited the highlands at 20. Like the tourists who open her film, she had an idealized vision of life there. But she has returned repeatedly, spent much time with the Lambiawi family, learned the language, and knew Tony. Shot over two visits, five years apart, a DISTANT THUD IN THE JUNGLE firmly centers the experiences of the highlanders, as they try to grapple with the consequences of broken promises.

“The film presents a portrait of life as it is lived by the vast majority of Huli. The film excels in its representation of the torpor and toil, disappointment and frustration of a population who believe that they should all by now be living in 'Dubai style houses' with wealth and services and a life elevated from poverty.” —Michael Main, The Journal of Pacific History

Moscow MIFF - Official Selection Documentary Competition
JEONJU International Film Festival - Frontline Section
Doc Edge Film Festival
Anûû-rû Aboro Film Festival
Zurich Film Festival
Douarnenez Film Festival
Leeds International Film Festival
Eatsa Art & Tourism Film Festival

85 minutes / Color
French; English; Huli / English subtitles
Closed Captioned
Release: 2022
Copyright: 2020

For individual consumers (home video)

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Subject areas:
Anthropology, Cultural Anthropology, Business Ethics, Indigenous Peoples, Energy

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