Cannibal Tours is two journeys. The first is that depicted – rich and bourgeois tourists on a luxury-cruise up the mysterious Sepik River, in the jungles of Papua New Guinea … the packaged version of a “heart of darkness”. The second journey (the real text of the film) is a metaphysical one. It is an attempt to discover the place of “the Other” in the popular imagination. It affords a glimpse at the real (mostly unconsidered or misunderstood) reasons why “civilised” people wish to encounter the “primitive”. The situation is that shifting terminus of civilisation, where modern mass-culture grates and pushes against those original, essential aspects of humanity; and where much of what passes for values in western culture is exposed in stark relief as banal and fake.
Dennis O’Rourke (1945-2013) was born in Brisbane. For most of his childhood he lived in a small country town, where his parents ran a failing business. In the late 1960s, after two years of fruitless university studies, he went travelling in outback Australia, the Pacific Islands and South East Asia. During this period he worked as a farm hand, salesman, cowboy, a roughneck on oil rigs, and as a maritime seaman. He also taught himself photography and dreamt of becoming a photojournalist. Wanting to make documentary films, he moved to Sydney where the Australian Broadcasting Corporation employed him as an assistant gardener. He later became a cinematographer for that organization. From 1974 until 1979 he lived in Papua New Guinea, which was in the process of decolonisation. He worked for the newly independent government, teaching documentary filmmaking skills to Papua New Guineans. Retrospectives of O’Rourke’s work have been held all over the world. In 2005, Dennis O’Rourke received the Don Dunstan Award for his contribution to the Australian film industry. His many other awards include the Eastman Kodak award for Cinematography, the Australian Film Institute Byron Kennedy Award, the Director’s Prize for Extraordinary Achievement at the Sundance Film Festival, the Grand Prix at the Nyon Documentary Film Festival, the Jury Prize for Best Film at the Berlin Film Festival, the Grand Premio at the Festival de Popoli in Florence, the Film Critics’ Circle of Australia Award for best Documentary, the Australian Film Institute Best Director Award (for CUNNAMULLA) and the Australian Centenary Medal “for services to Australian society and Australian film production”.