The healer and the psychiatrist

Mike Poltorak                              74 Minuten

Auf der südpazifischen Inselgruppe Vava ́vu behandelt die Heilerin Emeline Lolohea Menschen, die von Geistern besessen sind. Der einzige tongaische Psychiater Dr. Mapa Puloka hat eine in der Region bekannte öffentliche Psychiatrie eingerichtet.
Obwohl sie sich nie persönlich getroffen haben, schafft der Film einen Dialog zwischen den beiden über die Ursachen von psychischen Erkrankungen und spirituellen Leiden.

Die dokumentarische und visuelle Intervention basiert auf umfangreichen Forschungen zur psychischen Gesundheit und zur traditionellen Heilung in Tonga sowie auf Videos und lässt die Welten zwischen westlicher und traditioneller Medizin verschmelzen.

Video abspielen

Die Heilerin Emeline Lolohea behandelt Menschen, die von Geistern besessen sind. Der Filmemacher beschäftigt sich mit den verschiedenen Techniken, die Lolohea benutzt. Der Film bringt die Zuschauer*innen eine ganz neue Kultur durch verschiedene Heilpraktiken nah.

Video abspielen

Die Heilerin Emeline Lolohea behandelt Menschen, die von Geistern besessen sind. Der Filmemacher beschäftigt sich mit den verschiedenen Techniken, die Lolohea benutzt. Der Film bringt die Zuschauer*innen eine ganz neue Kultur durch verschiedene Heilpraktiken nah.

Interview mit dem/der Rigisseuren/Regisseurin


What is your understanding of an „ethnographic film“ ?

My understanding of ethnographic film is the result of ten years teaching a visual anthropology module (in which exploring the ethnographicness of films was a popular essay question), guiding many students through the process of making their own- often very personal-  ethnographic films and making ethnographic documentaries of my own, each of which emerged from long term involvement and deep interest in the subjects and wishes of those featured. A visual anthropological understanding informs my filmmaking but does not overdetermine it for many reasons. The main reason is that the intention, valued process of feedback and production and intended audience of the film often draws me away from a contribution contained within debates of what ‘ethnographic film’ is and should be. 

For me the vernacular use of video in the place I film is really important to informing the purpose and the style of film. I always try to identify in conversation with others something vital to the philosophy or culture of a group that is present in the development of narrative or the edit of the ethnographic documentary. For me an ethnographic film should also have an ethnographic intention, a purpose that relates to issues and concerns current to the people in the film that goes beyond the intention to represent. To realise that intention may require drawing on and being inspired by other styles of documentary and fictional filmmaking, and creating something that connects to the values of different genres of filmmaking. While I am familiar with more prescriptive formula of ethnographic filmmaking that are firmly observational in their orientation, I find myself more drawn to creating documentaries where attention to the processes of feedback with multiple audiences is fundamental, as well as valuing expertise in post-production. 

The questions we were drawn to answer on ethnographic film in our visual anthropology module, were related to how ethnographic film can redress the challenges of representation in written ethnography, the challenge and use of reflexivity in ethnographic film, and how and why ethnographic films can encourage ‘resonance’ in Wikan’s terms and how the production of ethnographic films constitute a form of exchange and gift giving.  I have been inspired on the one hand by Jean Rouch’s idea of a shared anthropology and on the cinematographically creative and impact intention exemplified by Joshua Oppenheimer’s recent documentaries: The Act of Killing and the Look of Silence. Closer to Tonga, the documentary films, Tongan Ark and For My Father’s Kingdom, inspired me greatly to aspire to a documentary that would resonate with Tongan and non-Tongan audiences. The journeys of these Tongan focussed documentaries affirmed for me that film is just one part of our journey of shared purpose and concern with the people we work with, well captured in this quote by Carta: 


‘Anthropological films invite us to enter into a flow of lived events through the movement of our own lives, just as filmmaking is an exercise that allows us to gain new insights into the lives of others. Every ethnographic film is a growth in awareness and a reflection upon experience. Through film our personal responses resonate with the experience of others, and this is what makes visual anthropological methods different from more traditional anthropology’. (Carta, S. 2014:453 )

Hockings, Paul ; Tomaselli, Keyang. ; Ruby, Jay ; Macdougall, David ; Williams, Drid ; Piette, Albert ; Schwarz, Maureent. ; Carta, Silvio. 2014. Where Is the Theory in Visual Anthropology? Visual Anthropology, Vol.27(5), p.436-456


How did you choose the subject of your film? 

The two key protagonists in the Healer and the Psychiatrist are long term research collaborators and friends. Emeline Lolohea considers me as an adopted son. I had been filming them for many years as part of my research before I was helped to decide to focus specifically on them. I need to explain a little about my previous film to show the influence.  
My first documentary was called Fun(d)raising-The Secret of Tongan Comedy, and was the result of fortuitously being asked to film a fundraising comedy performance next to the Catholic Church in Neiafu, Vava’u in 1999. It was only after many people requested copies that I realised that the performance had been a particularly good one.  I wanted to  understand the jokes and to get more context on the purpose of the comedy so I returned to film the key comedians in their village and all over Vava’u. The film took me many years to complete and I needed to screen it many times to get sufficient feedback to get the translations right as well as take out sections that would be offensive in audiences where male and female siblings might be watching together. Siua One of the key protagonists of Fun(d)raising Siua Tutone, died of complications of diabetes several years after I had shown him a first cut. My outrage and sadness that this could happen in Vava’u prompted me to think of making a film where I would ask key people connected to Siua, why he died. This I had hoped would reveal the cultural reasons and obstacles to successful treatment that contributed to his untimely death. It was when this project did not get off the ground because ultimately the reason why he had died was shameful, that I expressed my frustration to a friend, Nigel Evans, who was living in Vava’u after a long successful documentary film career. He had turned to writing because of the restrictions new TV commissioners placed on directorial freedom to create films that were not planned in their entirety before filming started. He pointed out to me, that what I regarded as quite normal by then, was actually fascinating and suggested I focus on what I knew best about Tonga. It became clear to me that my research with Emeline Lolohea and Dr Mapa Puloka meant I was somehow caught between seemingly different emphases and understandings of ‘mental illness’. I was trapped in the position of mediator or broker between systems without being able to commit wholeheartedly to the premises or principles of either. The film was one way I could find a resolution to this situation, through creating dialogue between them. Many previous documentaries on Tonga had focussed on the nobility. Here was an opportunity to explore Tongan values in relation to healing and the church, and make a contribution to imagining more effective health care. 

How long have you been in the region? 

I have been researching in Tonga since 1998. The film is made up of footage recorded in 2018, 2011, 2005 and 1998. 

How did you achieve getting the protagonists in front of the camera? 

From the outset the camera was a valued part of my research.  Being able to record events and conversations that would be difficult to remember without a recording was one advantage. Once the people I was working with knew I had a video camera, I was often asked to record events such as funerals to share with extended family overseas. It became clear to me and others that my use of the camera was of value to the community. 

For instance: Did you have the feeling that the camera was creating a distance between you and the protagonists? 

The camera brought value to what we were doing with the camera, in the sense that it was creating material that would be shared with others. Most things of value in Tonga are shared with others, and so the presence of the video camera most of the time reminded us of this vital cultural value. The resulting footage created closeness between us, because during the long periods when I was not able to go to Tonga, the footage reminded me of our common project and the fondness for the people I collaborated with and respect for the work they did. The footage did create a form of distance, though, in the sense that I was attached and wanted to understand events I had filmed, that were part of a not so clearly remembered past of the protagonists. This was one of the reasons why it was vital to show them the footage, to create a conversation around something concrete in the past to orient the filming in the present.  

What did you personally learn from the production of your film? 

For me the personal is an integral part of the production of the film, as we realise through feedback and the editing process what we are attached to in terms of footage and narrative, and if and how that relates to our intended audience. To somehow unpack what personally interests us and what we want from the film is a vital and challenging process as it often can help to reveal where our commitments and blind spots lie. I deepened my appreciation and understanding of Tongan values during the production as well as knowledge about the people I know in Tongatapu and Vava’u. This information informed the process and the final product, though I always find myself leaving Tonga with more questions than answers.  In post-production I learnt how important help and advice was to really understand the deeper meanings behind some of my sometimes literal translations. The deep cultural and intercultural knowledge of Sefita Hao’uli helped me see how much more I needed to learn, and the limits of my capacity, not living in New Zealand or Tonga,  to do so.  
I learnt that a sensitive and honest editor can do great ethnographic justice to footage, even without experience of the place concerned. I also learnt that I was too close to the footage and lacked the kind of distance necessary to combine footage of many years, not all that were filmed with the intention to create a documentary film with a particular narrative in mind. I learnt to trust the expertise of the editor Heidi Hiltebrand, as complimentary to the ethnographic knowledge I had and the feedback I had received of my first cut. In creating the voiceover for the film, Silvana Ceschi helped me identify the longer history for my reason for going to Tonga, a reason that also resonated with the eventual ending of the film, and would connect to a wider audience. I had resisted voiceover, but I learnt the value and challenge of creating a clear and authentic one, as interpretation, narrative guide and, perhaps most importantly, as the filmmakers contribution to the issue at hand. 
I learnt the Tongan value of gratitude, that so many people make contributions and help in the realisation and production of the film, and that it is important to recognise as many people as possible in the credits and other materials. 

Are you planning on producing similar films concerning style and subject in the future? 

I have a lot of footage that will be very useful in medical student and nurse training in cultural and health competency in Tonga and New Zealand. I would like to make more short films that respond to feedback on the transmedia project that accompanies the documentary in relation to key events shown in the documentary. Project Pouono ( already has lots of short films, but I intend to make a lot more. I also would like to create some experimental documentaries exploring more of Emeline Lolohea’s history as well as a journey we made across Vava’u, interviewing people she had successfully treated in the past. Trust and medical health care in relation to diabetes is a theme I am working on in collaboration with three other medical anthropologists of Oceania. I aim to bring together material related to this theme for discussion and contribution to the research project. There are also many hours of archival footage I have of Vava’u from 1998 to 2000, that I would like to make available in some form for people in Vava’u to be able to access it online and use it for historical reflection. 
Part of finding a position and confidence to make the Healer and the Psychiatrist, was to find a community of my own in Europe that allowed me to live in a way, that Tonga has inspired me to want. On that journey I made a film about volunteering at Angsbacka, a wonderful course and spiritual centre in Sweden and a documentary about contact improvisation, an improvisational dance form with a global network of people interested in building dance based communities. The learning I gained from making these two films in relation to collaborative filming, feedback and editing was vital for me to be able to start to formulate and edit feedback cuts of the Healer and the Psychiatrist. Some people ask me why it took twenty years to complete the film. To be honest, the idea of making the Healer and the Psychiatrist had intimidated me and I needed to have more confidence in the craft of filmmaking and editing. In the final stages I also needed funding support, and the success of these two previous films demonstrated my capacity to deliver the Healer and the Psychiatrist and impact. 
A group of friends with a common interest and history with contact improvisation in London set up a project called Living Arts Base over three consecutive summers in Spain and France to explore the use of contact improvisation as a key part of intentional community building. I filmed a lot of events, performances and happenings during those years. With funding I hope to create a documentary that will revisit the experience in the light of our current lives and explore the challenges and transformations of creating community. 

Is there any advice you would give future ethnological filmmakers? 

I like Rabiger’s advice, make your first film on something personal to you, something you are deeply invested in. I have had little advice given to me over the many years I have made documentaries, and sometimes I wished I had a mentor or more guidance of someone with more experience than me. The kind of advice I would have benefitted from, or aspired to, would have come from knowing the person giving the advice understood my motivations and the purpose of the film. I am wary of giving advice without really knowing what drives the future ethnological filmmakers other than to say that filming and editing are both crafts, that are best learnt through doing rather than studying them theoretically. Allow yourself the time to develop the craft, at the pace that you continue to enjoy it. Make films for others to learn the craft. Aside from all the videos of funerals I made in Tonga, I also learnt to film through making four weddings videos for friends, and recording the goings on in a shared house in London I lived in when I came back from Tonga in 2000. If you use your camera to be of service to others, you will develop a confidence in your filming and comfortableness filming with others that will stand you in good stead for the whole of your filming career. Remember, good ethnographic filming is fundamentally about the relationship you have with the people you film and the social benefit of the film. For more funding and career development advice I would say, the best people to give future ethnological filmmakers advice are ethnological filmmakers who have just started on their careers and have some success under their belt. I would recommend joining online fora and facebook groups where filmmakers share and give advice. 
There are many excellent MA Visual Anthropology courses in Europe, each which has particular emphases and orientations,  where you can get more dedicated practical training and train in visual anthropological methodologies. But do your research and really compare how much practical training you get and the other course offerings, in relation to the ultimate purpose for doing the course. There are also shorter term courses and summer schools, that offer excellent introductions, such as F3F ( ) There are also dedicated documentary filmmaking courses as part of film and tv school such at NFTS in the UK, where the technical training and exposure to industry level training will always be more extensive than for a MA in Visual Anthropology. It will also be a lot more expensive. It really depends if you want to make a career of documentary filmmaking or if you want to use it as part of a career where filmmaking adds value. Practical training you can always make up piecemeal, but there is great value in intense, immersive and transformative training on fieldwork and filmmaking skills.

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