Regissør: Audun Amundsen

COMMUNITY / The expectation of a paradise free of modern progress became the opposite, but most of all, Newtopia is about two very different men who support and help each other when life is at its most brutal.


The primeval forest is emerald green, and a river curves inward towards an unspoiled oak. Audun Amundsen was a long-haired backpacking tourist when, for the first time in 2004, he met the indigenous people of the Mentawai Islands in Indonesia and was feathered. He lived in the jungle with them for a whole month.

For fourteen years he has returned to photograph and film, what he thought would remain, authentic life. The visuals are spectacular, at times almost mesmerizing.

The expectation of a paradise free of all modernity captured as a documentary became the story of the opposite: Newtopia. With his close long-standing relationship with shaman Aman Paksa, the director finds himself on the inside when the indigenous peoples' traditions are challenged and crackle in the desire for the comforts of today. Related to Amundsen's typical western romanticization of the tough and hard life in the jungle, the film becomes an important reflection on what contradictory gaze we have the others versus ourselves.

Early in the film, the director uses a well-functioning approach where he represents the view that the others shall remain untouched by present opportunities and advancements:

"I'm not very excited about all the plastic and clothing they [mentawa people, ed.] have purchased. Even though their lifestyle is essentially the same, I find it ruins my movie. ”

Brings civilization to the jungle

Audun Amundsen is pale and short-cut when he returns to shaman Paksa and his clan four years after his first stay there. He has hired a motorboat and crew and enjoys the rain on his face as he is transported effortlessly and swiftly up the river towards, what in his head will always remain, the Promised Land.

These two unlucky men manage to communicate and open up to each other despite the gap in way of life and opportunities.

Amundsen reminds me of Klaus Kinski in the feature films of Werner Herzog. Kinski on his way to Eldorado in the movie Aguirre – the god of anger or his other brilliant detective-role interpretation in the film Fitzcarraldo. In both films, Kinski is in the same position as Amundsen – in front of the boat on his way with an important mission. Kinski came both as a conqueror in metal armour and as a philanthropist in lime dress. In one account, Kinski wanted the gold treasure of the indigenous people; in the other, he would bring opera to the jungle. Both would upset a balance. The boat to Amundsen is loaded to bring jungle life back to civilization in the form of movie recording, therefore the canoe lies heavily in the water with camera equipment and solar panels.

Acceptance from the jungle

Paksa and the clan receive Amundsen with open arms, they comment loudly that he no longer looks like a bomb. They perform a special ritual of dance, feather and smoke so that all the foreign technology Amundsen carries with him will be accepted by the jungle country. As Paksa brings out a plastic tablecloth to prevent spills in the process of processing the sago – the main food source, the irritation over this aesthetic is there again with the director. Contradictions such as these are repetitive and drive the movie forward.

Newtopia Director Audun Amundsen
Director Audun Amundsen

Amundsen gives way to his own reflection: "If this had been others who were filming, they would have taken off your watch and rubber boots," he tells Paksa. The scene makes me hum. Amundsen clearly wants to edit reality, but must, as truthfully, adhere to the cruel truth.

Suddenly someone else is filming Amundsen. The photo is beautifully composed. It takes me a while to realize that it is Paksa. The fact that he mastered this from the first moment, however, is perfectly understandable. Paksa is a unique human being who grasps what is in front of him.

Rituals and everyday life

The story is larger than Amundsen's conscious – or unconscious – parts. As I google Amundsen, I find a major NITO project where, as an engineer, he procured the clan's many members solar panels and lamps to ensure indigenous independence and sustainability when it comes to electricity. The man is now emerging as something else in my eyes.

Along the way, I kept coming across various things. By looking through video clips and text on Amundsen's NITO blog, it all becomes clearer. There are clips that show irresistible golden moments between Paksa and Amundsen in games, rituals, and everyday life, but the film also brings out the relationship between these two incredible men. They manage to communicate and open up to each other despite the gap in lifestyle and opportunities.

Amundsen reminds me of Klaus Kinski in the Werner Herzog feature films.

Amundsen does as best he can and a little more. All glory to him, who has learned Indonesian and indigenous languages ​​in order to communicate with Paksa's wife.

Newtopia Director Audun Amundsen
Director Audun Amundsen

One of the scenes with her getting clean running water provided by engineer Amundsen is priceless: "Look, now it becomes easy to wash the smelly pussy." As Amundsen replicates in her own language, she squeals. He has learned those words too.

The effortless tone and home-grown feeling that has arisen between Amundsen and the people he portrays is not something that everyone is aware of how to do. Even not very experienced documentaries can create such an under-skin relationship.

Friendship is the mainstay

It is the friendship and what Amundsen and Paksa share that is the mainstay of this story. The 350 hours attached to film could have been better managed to highlight more history, but it shines through anyway. Two people with vastly different starting points find, support, and help each other when life is at its most brutal.

Amundsen has written about his crippling stroke a few years after his first visit to Paksa, and that it was his dream of going back that enabled him to recover from as much as 99% paralysis. I wish this was incorporated into the movie.

The need for identity

The fate cross, on the other hand, is conveyed in the film regarding Paksa. A short scene shows a hand and a foot carved into a tree. He has buried seven out of ten children, we know. As he also loses his wife abruptly to sickness, he decides to travel to get himself to progress and prosperity. His introduction to the metropolis and urbanity is breathtaking and occasionally entertaining. Not least that a modern metropolitan life requires short hair. Here, the film changes tempo and expression.

A highlight of the friendship story is the scene where Amundsen buys a long-haired wig for the now short-cut former shaman. Rarely have I seen a nicer and more sincere smile than Paksa's. He takes the wig with him and continues to wear it, finally returning to the jungle. Using something as simple as hair shape, the film is able to speak on the need for identity and what happens when a person has to agree with their own markers of cultural belonging.

The movie is shown on HUMAN International Documentary Film Festival.

Subscription NOK 195 quarter