A VILLAGE WOMAN TELLS HER SECRETS
In the first documentary about the indigenous people of Misima Island, located off the mainland of Papua New Guinea, Misima explores what happens when our lives escape our control, and how we can rediscover our resilience by rejecting defeat.
In 1985, an open-pit gold mine began operations on the remote island, which spurred dramatic changes in the lives of Misimans. Village men’s unexpected and unequal access to employment and new cash had profound effects throughout the island. Marriages and families buckled under the culture shift, neighboring clans fought over royalty payments and land rights, and villagers adopted Western ideas of industrialization, employment, and consumerism.
In traditional culture, women are expected to defer to men, are not invited into public or political spaces, and are valued primarily for their domestic responsibilities. So today, many years after the mine ceased operations, the long-term social impacts are still widely felt, especially in the lives of village women. Misima paints an intimate portrait of one of these women, Nevenak, whose marriage fell apart because her husband followed the allure of money and cheap thrills of the Western mine workers’ lifestyle.
When her ex-husband unilaterally moves their teenage daughter to live with relatives on another island, Nevenak's control over her single life as a mother slips again. A local land dispute with a rival clan threatens her access to the land she uses for subsistence farming, and Nevenak's life unravels even further. One day, she has an epiphany and refuses to remain a passive actor in her story. She becomes determined to secure her daughter’s future by winning their matrilineal land rights herself.
Without role models, Nevenak journeys into uncharted territory as a female clan leader. She bravely breaks cultural taboos by beginning to defend her land rights in public. She struggles to maintain her mountain garden all by herself. She spends her evenings writing tragically heartfelt letters to her displaced daughter across the sea.
Her world was turned upside down by a massive gold mine operation and the corrosive effects of Westernization, but Nevenak's resilience will inspire audiences across the globe. One village woman, attempting to regain control over her destiny, reflects a central aspect of what it means for all women to live in the modern world.