by Dov Kornits

Fresh off its Best Documentary win at the Byron Bay International Film Festival, the eye-opening and affecting portrait of the people in a Port Moresby ghetto community, Kaugere: A Place Where Nobody Enters is finally making its way into the world.

“I did the filming, the sound, it was a one-man band,” says director Stephen Dupont. “But I couldn’t have made this film without the collaboration of the community, and particularly the Muri family, who invited me into their world and allowed me to spend all this time and travel with them and film them pretty much uninhibited. For them to give me their blessing and their access was integral to the film being made.”

Barely 100kms from Australian shores, it’s amazing how little we know or see of Papua New Guinea in our media.

“I started going to PNG back in 2004 when I went to do a photography project on raskols, on crime and the cops and gangs and gang warfare,” says Dupont about the origins of the documentary, raskols referring to the criminal street gangs that are so pervasive in this part of PNG. “In fact, it was that community that I met back in 2004, in Kaugere, where my film is set. I’d spent many weeks with this gang and their raskols and photographing them and becoming quite close to them as much as you can as an observer, and just having really incredible access to that story and to that world. And that ended up becoming a published book.

“I was originally inspired by a good friend of mine, Mark Worth, who was a filmmaker and spent a lot of time in PNG. I’d seen a lot of his reports for TV. And then I got onto Bob Connolly and seeing his amazing trilogy [First Contact, Joe Leahy’s Neighbours, Black Harvest]. When I saw those films, it just absolutely blew my mind.

“I’d keep going back and forwards to New Guinea, I met the Muri family. And Albert, who’s the main protagonist, he’s the coach of the Kaugere Bulldogs, I met in 2011, and I saw what he was doing with the Rugby League team, and it gave me an idea to do a project about it back then. And then around 2013, I started to instigate doing the project as a film; I hadn’t made a film before; that was an exciting adventure for me to move into sound and moving images as opposed to still photography. It was a personal project, so it was all self-funded at the beginning.”

The time and care taken to make Kaugere: A Place Where Nobody Enters has resulted in an observational documentary that Bob Connolly (Rats in the Ranks, Facing the Music) himself has called “one of the most graphic and illuminating films in recent history”, the quote taking pride of place on the film’s poster.

Originally titled ‘The Doggies’, referring to the aforementioned rugby league team which acts as a focal point in the story, the film also illustrates the hardship of living with no running water, the rampant crime, the shoot-first-ask-questions-later police force, political promises, the upheld traditions, the role of faith, family, community and so much more. With its tight running time, Kaugere: A Place Where Nobody Enters manages to offer a 360 degree, warts and all, view of PNG, which ultimately makes the viewer understand the full humanity that resides beyond the rough exterior.

“My influences are Frederick Wiseman, the Maysles Brothers, DA Pennebaker, who were photographic in how they made their films. Even Robert Frank and William Klein, who are two incredible photographers and who also made great documentaries. That was where I was coming from as an artist, as a filmmaker. I wanted to spend that time to just observe and film, not knowing really whether I would have a film or not. But over time, you build up the archive and the story develops, and it got bigger and bigger.”

Stephen Dupont’s partner in life is Elizabeth Tadic, who took on the job of editing the hours of footage into a cohesive film.

“She was on board from the beginning, in that she would be a watchful eye over the work I was doing and would encourage me and help me apply for funding. But she really came heavily on board during the editing stages, with the first ‘Ken Burns five hour cut’.

“I think it was at around 76 minutes when we took it to Shark Island and Ian Darling, and had some conversations about making this film really tight,” Dupont continues about the long post-production process. “We pulled it back and basically just made it the tightest best film we possibly could. I was never thinking about the time of the film. I just wanted to make the best film I could make with what I had.”

With the Byron Bay International Film Festival win under his belt, the hope now is for more film festival play before screenings on ABC or SBS.

Well and truly bitten by the filmmaking bug, the award-winning photographer has already shot another observational documentary, this time about a touring band of musicians, and he’s also keen to connect the Kaugere Bulldogs with their namesake in Australia, whose jerseys they actually wear when they play. “Back in 2004, I put in a thousand dollars with a mate of mine to buy a whole set of jerseys for the team. The ones in the film might even be the original ones that I helped pay for. I’ve been wanting the Canterbury Bulldogs here in Sydney, the NRL team, to see this film. I’ve been wanting to build a connection with them and the Kaugere Bulldogs, and I still hope that happens. Part of what we’ll do is get the film to some of the Papua New Guinean NRL players so they can watch it. And then maybe there’s going to be a bit of a buzz that comes out of that, and then maybe that will get to Canterbury somehow. But yeah, ultimately, it’d be great to have them send them a whole new kit.”