Bill Leimbach’s gallery of early TRIBAL LIFE filming

I’d always loved my photographic work in exotic places. As a still photographer that is. After some time in South America, I wanted to continue with more than just the still image. I wanted sound and motion and storytelling. I wanted to make motion pictures. When I came back from the jungles I enrolled in Film School in London where they taught me everything. Everything but how to produce one.

Just out of Film School in London with the help of a few private investors I produced my first one. And I shot it as well. My first film in the Tribal world was the feature length WOW ASMAT. Here I’m on location in Indonesian New Guineaa in a script session with my co-director Jean Pierre Dutilleux.

The Asmat are a coastal mangrove dwelling tribe feared for their headhunting but revered for their carving. After a month living among them, we found their muddy lifestyle quite compelling and lots of fun.

Way out of range of any TV and before the internet, the kids invented so many games, like Split The Arrow. Our film quest here was to learn how could such a people, known for killing and eating the son of the American Vice President, create some of the finest art in the tribal world.

Another film with Jean Pierre was the multi-award-winning RAONI, narrated by Marlon Brando and winner of an Oscar for Best Feature-Length Documentary. JP, me and three others were dropped in by the army, on one full moon and picked up the next. The birth of Raoni as a political animal happened in that film. It won picture of the year in Brazil and on the big screen so many Brazilians saw their indigenous people for the first time.

When we left Raoni’s jungle tribe he wanted to come with us, to Brasilia the Capitol, to confront the Minister of the Interior who was a bit slack when it came to Indigenous Affairs. We all got arrested of course, as Raoni was not allowed to travel outside the ‘reserve’ without a permit. Indians were still not considered to be Brazilian citizens.

Eventually, Raoni became a global ambassador for the Amazon Tribes and JP even brought him to Sydney to solicit some donations for Raoni’s Rainforest Foundation, a crusade to have his lands officially marked off as Indigenous Land.

I was attached to a film with David Attenborough into the four countries on the island Borneo for TIME-LIFE. It was always warming to find a remote Dyak longhouse-on-stilts after a trek into the tribal highlands. This one belonged to the Kenyah tribe. They had a battery operated 45rpm record player, with one song – Put Your Sweet Lips A Little Closer to the Phone.

Up in the highlands of Indonesia’s Sulawesi Island live a famous tribal people called the Toraja. They are well known for their cloth, their elaborate buffalo funeral ceremonies, their rice wine and their lovely Torajan women.

Back in Indonesian New Guinea, this film in the Highlands with the Dani Tribe. The men all wore penis sheaths in those days, and the competition for the most interesting was always a big fascination.

After ten years in London making mainly tribal films I migrated my company to Australia and was lucky to work with tribal Aborigine David Gupillil. The doco we m a d e t o g e t h e r w a s “Walkabout to Hollywood”, a big hit with the BBC. Gulpillil was the hottest actor in Australia at the time, with four films playing in LA at the same time. “Walkabout”, “Storm Boy”, “Mad Dog Morgan” and “The Last W a v e ” . H e w a s a n d international star long before M e l G i b s o n o r H u g h Jackman. This shot is David at lunch break on the set of the TV series “Timeless Land”.

Soon I was lucky enough to make a doco with the tribal people of the Pacific, a two-part series called “Musical Mariner”, with the Musicologist David Fanshawe. We were looking for the indigenous music of Micronesia, Melanesia and Polynesia. Here we are having fun with a scene in the highlands of Melanesian New Guinea.

1500 meters up, in these remote tribal highlands, traditional culture and beliefs were incredibly strong and remain so even today. Their annual Sing Sing is a dazzling spectacle wearing an array of exotic bird feathers, beads, bones, war paint and weapons. And the occasional photograph as a headpiece.

So much time spent in the tribal world inspired me to create a fictional thriller based on all these adventures. Like, what can happen when a film crew goes into such remoteness and does the wrong thing? How does “all hell breaks out’ look like in the Fourth World? This will be filmed in the wonders of Vanuatu, with the support of locals and government. So many wonderful characters to chose from, and work with, as this family from Efate Island.

We will continue planning for GARDENS OF WAR until this vicious Coronavirus is brought under control. The script is being tweaked by the legendary Reg Cribb who has done lots of location hunting deep in Vanuatu’s jungle (front and centre). He is currently isolating in his writer’s den in Melbourne while my production partner Bill Mulham (in the back) is ‘stranded’ on a Vanuatu island. Together with the powers of the Internet, we will continue to add value to the script, the budget and a schedule, ready for financing and production as soon as the world heals.