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First Contact (1/3)

This is also part of this series: Papua New Guinea Trilogy

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School Bd/College/University DVD: $525


Grade Level: Coll-Adult
Producer: Filmakers Library
Closed Captioned: No
Running Time: 54 mins
Country of Origin: United States
Study Guide: No

Copyright Date: 1983
Available in French: No

When Columbus and Cortez ventured into the New World there was no camera to record the drama of this first encounter. But, in 1930, when the Leahy brothers penetrated the interior of New Guinea in search of gold, they carried a movie camera. Thus they captured on film their unexpected confrontation with thousands of Stone Age people who had no concept of human life beyond their valleys. This amazing footage forms the basis of First Contact. Yet there is more to this extraordinary film than the footage that was recovered. Fifty years later some of the participants are still alive and vividly recall their unique experience.

The Papuans tell how they thought the white men were their ancestors, bleached by the sun and returned from the dead. They were amazed at the artifacts of 20th century life such as tin cans, phonographs and airplanes. When shown their younger, innocent selves in the found footage, they recall the darker side of their relationship with these mysterious beings with devastating weapons.

Australian Dan Leahy describes his fear at being outnumbered by primitive looking people with whom he could not speak. He felt he had to dominate them for his own survival and to continue his quest for gold.

First Contact is one of those rare films that holds an audience spell- bound. Humor and pathos are combined in this classic story of colonialism, told by the people who were there.

  • Academy Award Nominee, 1984
  • Grand Prix, Cinema du Reel, 1983
  • Red Ribbon, American Film Festival, 1983
  • Best in Sociology, San Francisco International Film Festival, 1983
Screened at:
  • Margaret Mead Film Festival, 1983
  • American Anthropological Association, 1984