“Strong Culture” Directed by Jarryd O’Keefe (Australia)

By Mikel Fair / a few months ago
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Director Jarryd O'Keefe Takes You Into A Hidden World

First of all, Strong Culture, Directed by Jarryd O'Keefe, is an official selection of 2018 Oregon Documentary Film Festival Official Selection. Furthermore, this film from Australia screened on Saturday May 26, 2018. Above all, Strong Culture, was nominated for three different awards. Tagline "A warrior chief in a small village in Vanuatu prepares for a traditional war dance ceremony that honors the ancestral culture of his people."

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Director Biography: Jarryd O'Keefe

Jarryd is an ambitious young filmmaker with experience in writing, directing, cinematography and editing. As a result, his ambition and skills have allowed him to work in many different countries. Thailand, Singapore, India, China, Vanuatu, New Zealand and also Australia, his native country.

Even more, he has made documentary films in multiple languages including Thai, Karon, Kannada, Bislama and English. Jarryd's work in foreign conditions was first recognized in 2016. Above all, Muay Thai: The Spirit of Ram Muay, won the best film award at the Thailand International Film Festival. Since then his work has gone on to receive numerous festival recognition.

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Director Education: Jarryd O'Keefe

Jarryd holds a Diploma of Screen and Media from SAE Qantm. Furthermore, he is currently in his final year of a Bachelor degree of Screen and Media Production at Griffith Film School. Besides his current studies Jarryd's main focus at present is working on his first two feature length documentaries. Also, his web series 'Southern Warriors.' Even more, he is working overseas as well as locally on corporate gigs and passion projects. Above all, with the aim of broadening his skills, experience and network.

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Why submit to the Oregon Documentary Film Festival?

I felt that telling a story from such a small country on the other side of the planet is important. We are interested in sharing it with the world as much as possible. Festivals such as this that centre solely on documentary. Obviously, this appealed to us. Also, we know that audience are looking to get a glimpse into other peoples lives. We believe we have a truly transportive experience to offer an audience such. Hopefully, this will leave them wanting more. Finally, having a category for micro shorts was also appealing. As a result, I believe our film is a really good example at the power of a micro short.

Is there any special meaning to the title?

 I named original title in the native tongue of Vanuatu people. Bislama, which is the language spoken in film is Strongfala Kalja which translates to Strong Culture. Bislama is pigeon English not all words translate differently. For example, Warrior or chief are the same in the english tongue. So I looked for a fitting title that was in the native language.

As a result, we used Strong Culture, which at the end of the day is the perfect title as the film. Ultimately this is about the strong connections Kalories has to his culture and ancestors. Furthermore, I focused on the importance of keeping those traditions alive through the dance. Therefore, is a show of strength and unity.

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Cameras, Drones & Gear

What camera(s) did you use to during the production of this film? Discuss any advantages or limitations that you may have run into, from an equipment perspective. 

"I chose to shoot the entire film on a 50mm lens, a personal favorite of mine. We shot on two cameras. Because there was a lot of tracking shots we used a gamble with a Sony a7sii for majority of the film. Also, for a lot of the slo-motion shots we used an Fs5 to take advantage of higher frame rates. We also open with a drone shot, which was shot on a DJI Mavic pro. I believe this is a brilliant combination of equipment for documentary. As a result, I couldn't be happier with how the film looks."

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Why did you choose to tell this particular story?

Personally before I visit any country I research their culture, history and traditions. I hope that something will connect with me and spike my interest to investigate further in country. We spent a lot of my time working with martial artists. I was always fascinated with the warrior spirit so naturally this subject resonated with me. Even more, day one in Vanuatu, we were treated to a customary dance ceremony as a way of welcoming us into their village. Instantly I started asking myself a lot of questions. Why do they look the way they do?

Furthermore, Does the paint represent anything? Also, why do they continue to do this dance in this day and age? This excited me cause I knew their were lots of questions that go deeper than what you see in the dance. Finally, I felt that, when there's questions there's usually a story. As for why did I choose to concentrate on just Kalorie? I happened to be living in the same hut as him during my stay there.

He was also the newly appointed warrior chief and a very calm and warm character. I also thought this was a great contrast from what people maybe assumed they would get from a story about a warrior chief. I'd also like to point out that, I never viewed this as my story. It was always Kalories and the villages story. We were just the vessel for them to be able to share it with the world in an engaging way.

Did you discover certain story elements during the production of this film that you never expected to find?

Absolutely, during my research stage before I stepped foot in Vanuatu I was very drawn to the warrior aspect. Consequently, once I started conducting interviews in country I quickly realized that it is much deeper than I first anticipated. I think the one fact that most people are surprised by is that the warrior dance isn't an act of war but rather an act of peace. The warriors do it as a show of strength and unity before battle. Also during customs to hopefully intimidate the other villages into not crossing them.

Did anything happen during the production of Strong Culture that was very interesting, but never made it on camera?

Oh lots haha, I'd probably say theres two main ones that stand out. The first is as previously mentioned the first day we arrived we were greeted with a warrior dance. The other was actually a 100 day death ceremony for the previous chief who had passed away, which involves the whole village coming together to pay respects to the man and his family. It was a very interesting outpouring of emotion and also involve the sacrifice of three pigs, which is an ancient tradition in Vanuatu and the pigs are scared animals there.

These were both filmed and documented during our research phase but ultimately weren't included as we decided to go down a different path with the style and tone of film we wanted to make. However a pigs scream from this ceremony did make the final cut as Kalories himself screams as he attacks the camera in the final shot of the film. This had great meaning to the family and villages as they saw it as a passing of the torch moment in a way and a great way to include and honour the memory of the previous chief.

How did you fund the production of Strong Culture?

Myself and 3 other film students made this film, with some assistance from 2 other students who were working on separate projects. The producers of the film are actually our teachers. We are all from Griffith University in Brisbane, Australia and the students that travelled to Vanuatu were selected for a scholarship from the Australian Government called the New Colombo Plan.

What kind of audience reaction are you getting to Strong Culture?

"The audience reaction from festivals around the world has been amazing. We have been selected in 22 festivals thus far in 12 countries with 4 awards. But regardless of all this the most touching response I've had to this film is from the villages and family in which we shot it.

I personally never had a more rewarding experience as a filmmaking than experiencing their reaction. As we were all brought to tears and hearing how much it donors their culture and ancestors. I was presented with a statue from the previous chiefs family. And told a touching story about how the statue represents the previous chiefs channeling his spirit through me. As a result, giving me the direction to make this film. Words can't do the experience justice but I doubt Ill ever have a more touching audience experience as a filmmaker."

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Do you have plans for a sequel or future film that you are working on?

"A lot of people have said they wish the film was longer and it leaves them wanting more but they also follow this up with saying it is perfect the way it is and ends well. I always intended it to be that way as I hoped the audience would watch and want to know more but choose to visit this amazing country and experience it for themselves. I have toyed with the idea of going back for a longer stay to make a longer format film about all aspects of there culture but we will see where life takes me."

Do you have any advice for a filmmaker that is about to start a documentary project?

"Everything documentary is completely different some are found in the edit. Some like ours are found during the development/pre-production stage. Therefore, I think the most important thing for a Director to do is. To know what the main themes of your story are. What tone fits best and how you'll keep that consistent and to be able to have clear vision that you can articulate to your crew.

Also know who's story it is. I feel that it is yours, your subjects or is it bigger than that? That choice is yours. Another big bit of advice is the questions you ask aren't as important as the quotes you want so start with. What quotes do you really want? Finally, I suggest that you construct your questions based on them."

About the author

Mikel Fair

My name is Mikel Fair. I am the Director of Film Festival Circuit Inc. First of all, we are a company that manages film festival events in Texas and Oregon. Furthermore, we like to have fun and celebrate independent film. I worked for 15 years in the television and film production as a location sound mixer and production manager. I have also worked in post production as an editor, post sound mixer and composer. Above all, watching independent films and reading creative screenplays is my passion.