Watching First Contact

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


    First Contact, the first in the celebrated Highlands Trilogy of documentary films by Bob Connolly and Robin Anderson, tracks the passage in 1933 of the first Europeans to enter the largest of Papua New Guinea's highland valleys. Interviews with surviving members of the expedition and with living eyewitnesses among the Highlands communities provide a remarkable counterpoint to the original visual and textual record of this last first encounter. The Europeans act out their roles as explorers, photographing and filming their own performances along with those of the Highlanders, while Connolly and Anderson's camera and questions set the stage for a further layer of performance or re-enactment which is completed when the original footage is screened before Highlander eyewitnesses of the events of 1933. While a substantial body of secondary literature has developed around the film, there has been surprisingly little contribution to debate from historians. In their focus on capturing the mood and texture of first contact events, Connolly and Anderson depart radically from conventional historical narrative formats. The success of their approach underscores the potential of film and other non-textual media to recast our understanding of history as an act of reconstruction and re-enactment.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)21-36
    JournalJournal of Pacific History
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 2010


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