The Sky Above, The Mud Below (1962)
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A Pacific island in 1960, still largely untouched by modern civilisation, and a French team explores right through the heart of it. Whatever else is here, and there is much, the documentation of life without documentation, before documentation, is spellbinding.
Reminded me of Jared Diamond's book Guns, Germs, and Steel, since he spent several years in New Guinea studying the culture there. In this doc, a group of French explorers with a group of native porters from one of the colonized towns traverse an unmapped area of New Guinea. It takes them almost a year, from late 1959 through early 1960, to trek from the south shore to the north shore through the Dutch owned side of the island. We are not permitted to get to know the individual members of the expedition much, but, yet, the color photography and the narrator's descriptions of their obstacles keep your attention surprisingly well. Despite the narrator reminding us constantly of the primitiveness and cannibalism of the tribes in the uncivilized island interior, the explorers seem to be on a genuinely friendly mission. They are not there to convert, or civilize, or demand supplies. The expeditioners just want to observe and survive the trip. In fact, because of extreme weather and tropical diseases, several members die or become seriously ill. Since many tribes are unwilling to share their limited resources, they must rely on Dutch pilots to fly over and make drops of food and medical supplies. It is a very strenuous journey! Arthur Cohn, who produced this and Annaud's Black and White in Color (the two films appear on the same DVD), gives several insights about film-making in the special features that are included with this chronicle of "modern day" explorers trying to catch a glimpse of one of the last untouched spots on our globe and the people who live there as if in another era.
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