'As Worlds Divide' - review

Stu Nettle picture
Stu Nettle (stunet)
The Depth Test

One of the first truths to be gleaned from Rob Henry's new film 'As Worlds Divide' is how little we know about the indigenuous Mentawai. 25 years after the Mentawais were 'discovered' and surfers filed like lemmings to those brilliant coral corners, the inhabitants of the islands are largely a mystery.

And I say this as someone who's got off a Mentawai charter boat many times to 'meet the locals'. Even stayed in the land camps to do the same. Yet Henry shows that Mentawai culture is more complex than can possibly be gleaned in a cursory visit, and there are also layers of politics that are equally hard to discern.

Henry's Indonesian story begins at Pit Stop Hill Resort in the northern reaches of the Mentawais. He's hired to film video and shoot photos of paying guests, yet he's captivated by 'Andy' a local Mentawaiian hired to work as a surf guide. In time, Henry quits his job at Pit Stop Hill and goes to live at a nearby coconut farming village, in essence to understand why many locals seem satisfied when they have so little.

It's here the anthropological journey begins.

Calling it an anthropological documentary may not appeal to everyone, yet it sure isn't a surf movie. That it's based in a region known for great waves is incidental, though if you too have got off the boat to 'meet the locals' then you'll be curious by what follows.

Like all good field researchers, Henry slowly gains the confidence of his new neighbours and is absorbed into their world. His gentle demeanour and willingness to assimilate appears the key to entry, and the doco is made all the more powerful by how often he rolls tape, including one-on-one talks where locals share their joys and their worries.

Many months into his visit - the doco is filmed over nine years - Henry learns how blanket policies imposed from distant Jakarta are displacing native Mentawai. Forced into government settlements where the children get schooling but where there's little employment, the familes are forced to seperate; many fathers see little of their children and native wisdom and lore is dying.

Henry moves deeper into the heartlands of the islands, ending up with a tribe who remain largely unaffected by government intrusion yet there's a melancholy resignation that their isolation can't last. That this generation of children will be the last to live off the forests. "We don't want to practice a different way of life," says one woman. "We want to stay here. We want to protect our cultural way of life."

Filmed over Henry’s nine years living amongst the Mentawai, 'As Worlds Divide' confronts the impacts commercialisation, forced displacement, and assimilation have had on the Mentawai people. Pan out and the story is one of globalisation smothering indigenuous cultures creating an unwanted homegeny, but it's also about how one of those threatened cultures is responding to the challenge.

'As Worlds Divide' film premiere to be tonight at Deakin Edge, Federation Square (Melbourne). Click here for tickets.


indo-dreaming's picture
indo-dreaming's picture
indo-dreaming Friday, 24 Mar 2017 at 5:34pm

Love to see this...

I remember that Andy dude around that time he sported a crazy hair cut and use to sleep at E-bay in a hut that was basically a shed with no windows thew size of a toilet.

sasareu's picture
sasareu's picture
sasareu Saturday, 25 Mar 2017 at 9:09am

The shed Andy Lau slept in is still there if I'm not mistaken, it has been relocated to the back of Eber's place. I'm pretty sure Andy works for Kandui now, I see his smiling face pop up in the Kandui videos.

indo-dreaming's picture
indo-dreaming's picture
indo-dreaming Saturday, 25 Mar 2017 at 8:10pm

Im guessing by the sound of it, Sasareu is a Bahasa Mentawai word, what does it mean?

mowgli's picture
mowgli's picture
mowgli Monday, 27 Mar 2017 at 10:25pm

Be good to get a heads up if it becomes available more broadly.

robhenry's picture
robhenry's picture
robhenry Monday, 27 Mar 2017 at 10:56pm

Sorry for the lack of commentary here. Busy year. We'll add info - including upcoming screenings - to the wafsac page Mowgli - http://www.iefprograms.org/wafsac
Sasareu means foreigner :)