TALKING HEADS Will Millard, p18
The filmmaker is busy. On the heels of his thought-provoking Papua documentary series, Will Millard is back with a fishing memoir and a new show on Wales. He talks tribes, sand eels and why a wooden submarine is a bad idea
My Year with the Tribe saw you spend time with the Korowai people of Papua. But things didn’t go smoothly, and the majority of the villages you visited were more modern than you expected. It’s ruffled quite a few feathers…
We wanted to film it without fixers going out there and ironing out the creases before I arrived – to be as real as possible. I think [the tensions between the filmmakers and the Korowai] is a lot for the audience to take; it is the unvarnished version of the truth and that’s always going to create controversy.
It did raise doubts over the authenticity of the experiences travellers might have.
We have to question why we hold tribal or remote communities to different standards. Does it matter if the San Bushmen in Namibia put on a performance for your benefit for cash? I don’t think it does. They’re the experts on how to perform their rituals. It pisses me off when I hear this kind of one-upmanship; of who had the most authentic experience.
So, what would you recommend that travellers see and do in Papua?
The central highlands are great, and if you time your visit around the Baliem Festival, you’re in for a treat. There’s also good hill walking, [while offshore] the Raja Ampat islands are the jewel in the crown of the Coral Triangle, with the best diving you’re ever likely to experience. You can swim with whale sharks out in Nabire Bay and see birds of paradise in the forests. Certainly, don’t discard Papua because of what you saw on the series.
In between filming, you were exploring Britain for a book on fishing…
I’d caught a sand eel off the Dorset coast and just chucked it back in. Then I realised that it would have smashed the record for this diminutive fish. So I’ve spent two years travelling Britain, across the whole spectrum of places that you can fish [to try and break another record] – everything from crumbling urban docklands right up to the tweed-covered heart of Scotland. It’s not just a fishing book, it’s a natural history book, but it’s also for anyone with an obsessive side to them.
And in the meantime, you’re also filming another new documentary: Hidden Wales. What are your local tips?
If you head to the Black Mountains, you can go there and not see another soul. I love going to the ironworks around Cyfarthfa Castle, too. These ironworks kickstarted the industrial revolution. You walk into them thinking: ‘Bloody hell, all the great industrial cities were built off the back of what happened here.’
Where are you travelling to next?
North Wales. We’re diving the wreck of the Resurgam. It’s a wooden submarine, so surprise, surprise, it sank.
“It doesn’t matter if the locals are putting on a performance – they’re the experts on their rituals”
“It pisses me off when I hear this kind of one-upmanship of who had the most authentic experience.”
The Old Man and the Sand Eel (Viking, £12.50) is out now; Hidden Wales will be out soon. For our full interview with Will, head to www.wanderlust.co.uk