Strange Birds in Paradise: A West Papuan Story

“You’re not going to suppress a popular resistance movement by banning singing.” — David Bridie
Year: 2009
Country: Australia
Running time: 75 mins

Producers: Jamie Nicolai, John Cherry
Photography: August Kemp
Editors: Mark Aitken, Andrew Brinsmead
Music: David Bridie

Festivals: Amsterdam Documentary 2009

West Papuans speak (and sing) of years of persecution in this film by Charlie Hill-Smith, a white Australian who first travelled to the Indonesian province on the island of Papua as a tourist in 1999. As his movies of that trip demonstrate, he was enthralled by the lush beauty of the place and fell in enthusiastically with the friendly locals. When he returned home and started to look deeper into the country’s culture, he realised that he had actually been in an undeclared war zone. He found a community of West Papuan musicians in Melbourne who had fled from the Indonesian army. Having gained further insight into their history and acquired some professional filmmaking skills, he returned to West Papua to hear more stories from those who remained. The potently activist film with which he has emerged is unusually holistic in its approach, guiding us modestly down the path of his own growing consciousness, and placing great faith in the power of an embattled people to cling for survival to their stories and their music. — BG

“A shocking eye opener” — Darren Bevan,