Directed by Céline Rouzet • Documentary • 2022 • 85 minutes
In the highlands of Papua New Guinea, a group of families perform traditional dances and songs. But they are not celebrating a local festival. Instead, these dancers are paid to perform for tourists, who point cameras in their faces and marvel at people who they romanticize as pre-modern and simple, with few cares in the world.
Life in the highlands, though, is far from care-free. In the village of Hides 4 (named for a colonial explorer and a petroleum lease), an ExxonMobil gas plant flares through the night, its fenced-in compound off-limits for locals. Seduced by promises of nice houses, free food and riches from gas royalties, some families, like the Lambawis, gave up their land for the LNG plant. Tony Lambawi made an agreement with ExxonMobil, thinking it was for the best. Now, Tony is dead and his relatives live in poverty and misery. His brother Homai is continually rebuffed whenever he tries to approach the company for the money the family is owed.
A DISTANT THUD IN THE JUNGLE captures how one project—in a place idealized by westerners as “unspoiled”—has damaged the local environment, plunged residents into poverty, and eroded social norms.