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Thursday 09 October 2008

Murder in the Pacific

Posted in: Movies
By Matt Akersten - 2nd September 2008

John Scott
John Scott, a fourth-generation, Fiji-born European, was the Director-General of the Red Cross. A respected, high-profile figure in Fijian life, he had gained international attention during the coup of 2000 when he went to the assistance of hostages trapped in Parliament for 56 days.

Scott and his partner Greg were a highly-visible gay couple in a volatile country. After, the couple were violently murdered at home in Suva in July 2001, the double homicide was shrouded in mystery, rumour and homophobic innuendo.

"Filming Murder in the Pacific was an intense experience," says Producer/Director Annie Goldson. "It was a very difficult documentary to make, primarily because of the emotional quality - it was about a horrible experience and a lot of people were still really hurt."

Goldson had admired Scott's bravery during the 2000 coup, but didn't know he was gay until she heard about the murder. "I was saddened to hear about his death and was interested by the story," she explains. "It's important to remember gay heroes who are also quite physically courageous as well."

Goldson's aim was to understand why the murders occurred, and place them in the wider context of the Fijian political climate. The documentary contains interviews with Scott's brother and friends, several people in the Fijian community, and even the killer Apete Kaisau's parents and brother.

"I suppose I get drawn to stories where if you look more closely, you reveal things about a culture and a moment, and perhaps some sort of universal lesson or truth.

"Kaisau grew up in a culture where violence has been used to exercise political power - and we see the affect that had on someone who is unstable. I knew the film wouldn't have an easy conclusion, and in some ways it's morally ambiguous. In the end, I felt a lot for the Kaisau family - especially for Mrs Kaisau, who I got quite close to."

The influence of Christianity and the rise of fundamentalism - particularly since Fiji's 1987 coup - was a surprise to Goldson: "I understand the power of the church, but it's taken very literally in Fiji. It's huge in people's lives." She learned it was Apete's faith in the Bible's teachings that lead him to despise gay people. As his brother explains of the murders, "Apete told me 'I did it for the younger generation, because whatever they were doing, it was morally wrong'."

Making several trips to islands for the filming, Goldson sensed a tense 'powder keg' mood in the air. "Shortly after I was filming, there was another coup. I tried to look into the political history of Fiji - which is complicated, and in some ways, I can't see an easy resolution for the country. I'm not feeling optimistic about what's going on now. I feel it will end in bloodshed and tears."

The contrast between Fiji's increasingly Fundamentalist Christian culture, and its citizens' behavioural norms was also highlighted in the documentary. As one interviewee explains, "A large number of Fijian men think nothing of having sex with other men... I mean, you know that, right? That's true of a lot of places. But they don't regard themselves as 'poofters' as they would say."

Murder in the Pacific - previously titled An Island Calling when it screened in film festivals across New Zealand earlier this year - will make its television premiere Thursday 11 September at 9:30pm on TV3.

Matt Akersten - 2nd September 2008