Bruce Parry

The ex­plorer and doc­u­men­tary-maker made his name liv­ing with indigenous pop­u­la­tions in re­mote lo­ca­tions for his Bafta-win­ning TV se­ries Tribe — now he’s re­vis­it­ing one of them for his first fea­ture-length film, Tawai

Esquire (UK) - - Culture -

ESQUIRE: What’s with the name Tawai?

BRUCE PARRY: Tawai is a word used by the no­madic Pe­nan peo­ple of Bor­neo.

It’s about an in­ner feel­ing of con­nec­tion to land­scape. It’s not in our cul­tural lex­i­con be­cause we con­sider our­selves as su­pe­rior to na­ture, so we can’t trans­late it. It’s a group that I lived with be­fore that

I wanted to re­visit; I felt that within my ex­pe­ri­ence of liv­ing with indigenous peo­ples there was some re­ally com­pelling in­sights into other ways of ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the world that I hadn’t ex­pressed enough in my films, and I wanted to in­ves­ti­gate more. ESQ: What was it about the Pe­nan peo­ple that got to you so much?

BP: They were so dif­fer­ent to ev­ery group I’d been with, and I re­ally couldn’t put my finger on it. They had no lead­er­ship, no shaman, no own­er­ship and al­most no sense of com­pe­ti­tion. When I’m hang­ing out with my mates there’s ban­ter, but when you de­con­struct that, what is ban­ter? It’s quite of­ten about me be­ing a bit fun­nier, or plac­ing my­self in the group. That wasn’t there. No ban­ter! And, of course, we love ban­ter. We’re Bri­tish for God’s sake. ESQ: We hes­i­tate to say “spir­i­tual jour­ney” but there’s a bit of that — how come?

BP: I did a TV show go­ing across Green­land, pre­tend­ing to be Cap­tain Scott of all things. It was three months of get­ting out of my tent and pulling this sledge with a group of peo­ple I couldn’t talk to be­cause the wind’s blow­ing. It was Ground­hog Day, be­cause it’s white and flat as far as the eye can see: no green, no red, no birds, no fo­liage, no hills, no noth­ing. The first week is fine, the sec­ond week is, “This is a bit weird,” and af­ter nine or 10 weeks I went mad. I’d been so ad­dicted to stim­u­la­tion that sud­denly hav­ing this mas­sive deficit I couldn’t con­trol my mind. I had friends around me who said, “Bruce, you’ve got to learn to med­i­tate.” And I was like, “Fuck off. It’s bull­shit.” In the end I only went to shut them up, and then I had a mas­sive, mas­sive ex­pe­ri­ence. ESQ: Part of the film was shot at the Kumbh Mela in In­dia, where you bathed in the Ganges with sad­hus. Was that eye-open­ing? BP: I did ac­tu­ally have this most amaz­ing ex­pe­ri­ence in the Kumbh Mela. It’s like a su­per­mar­ket of spir­i­tual lead­ers, with tens of mil­lions of peo­ple, all naked, who’ve been pre­par­ing for this for days and days and days. When I went out into the crowd for the first time, I saw a horse, and I had this re­ally strange ex­pe­ri­ence of the horse talk­ing to

me, a sort of “Oh my God” awak­en­ing. ESQ: Sounds trippy! Were any il­licit sub­stances in­volved?

BP: These guys smoke quite a lot of ganja, so one time I did it with and one time I did it with­out. It was more ac­cen­tu­ated with the ganja, yeah.

Tawai is out on 29 Septem­ber

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