Screened as part of NZIFF 2017

What Lies That Way 2017

Directed by Paul Wolffram

Filmmaker Paul Wolffram immerses himself in the spiritual world of the Lak people in the rainforests of southern New Ireland, Papua New Guinea in this heady combination of ethnography and lyrical expressionism.

Aotearoa New Zealand / Papua New Guinea In Lak and Tok Pisin with English subtitles
89 minutes DCP



Catherine Fitzgerald

Assistant producer

Mary-Lou Harris


Luke Frater

Additional photography

Horst Sarubin
Paul Wolffram


Paul Wolffram
Annie Collins


Bernard Blackburn


Paul Wolffram
Elson Toaniti
Christian Dokon Tobung

In a documentary exploration of altered states, ethnographer and filmmaker Paul Wolffram returns to the remote community in the island region above the mainland of Papua New Guinea where he once lived for two years – and where his hosts collaborated on his playful exploration of their ancestors’ tales in Stori Tumbuna (2011). Now his ambition is to take his cultural understanding to a spiritual level: he is determined to undergo the dangerous initiation process into their Buai shaman cult.

In a remote area of the forest, the camera runs as the filmmaker is given magical substances harvested from nature and left to fast without food or water for four days and nights, alone in the bush. Few undergo the initiation nowadays and there’s only one old sorcerer in the region with the experience and confidence to assist. “You won’t die,” he tells Wolffram, “but you will lose all strength.”

Moving beyond ethnography, Wolffram orchestrates Luke Frater’s stunning cinematography of rainforest and sea to an immersive sound design by Bernard Blackburn in order to impart his singular experience of psychic danger and creative epiphany.