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Challenging Colonialism -- Oliver Howes interview

Video clip synopsis – Producer and director Oliver Howes reflects on French Polynesia's colonial history.
Year of production - 2005
Duration - 4min 40sec
Tags - civics and citizenship, colonisation, culture, French Polynesia, historical representations, identity, nationalism, self-determination, Tahiti, see all tags


Challenging Colonialism -- Oliver Howes interview

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About the Video Clip


This interview with Oliver Howes was recorded for the Pacific Stories website produced in 2005.

Oliver Howes joined Film Australia in the late 1960s and worked on both fiction and documentary projects. He directed the first Papuan New Guinea feature film and his documentaries have covered a wide spectrum of issues in Aboriginal Australia, Fiji, Tahiti and Japan. He now works as an independent writer and director and his short video dramas have won awards in Australia and the US.

Pacific Stories is a co-production between Film Australia’s National Interest Program and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Presented by Vika and Linda Bull, the project explores the geography, history and culture of the South Pacific.

Curriculum Focus


Historic knowledge and understanding
Historic reasoning and interpretation

In Level 6 History, students have the opportunity to

  • Use the case study of French Polynesia to investigate the issue of a community’s struggle for cultural maintenance and renewal.
  • Enhance their historical skills by using a range of sources, especially film, and the higher order thinking skills of reasoning and interpretation.

The video clip is also linked to Level 6 Civic and Citizenship domain in which issues of social justice and democracy are examined.

Other Links to VELS:
Physical, Personal and Social Learning
Interpersonal Development – working and learning in teams, values as social constructs, resolving conflicts
Personal learning – ethical considerations, manage own learning
Civic and Citizenship – Concept of democracy, personal identity, knowing rights and responsibilities as a citizen, human rights, social justice

Interdisciplinary Learning
Opportunities for enhancing

  • Communication skills
  • ICT skills
  • Higher order thinking skills
This material is an extract. Teachers and Students should consult the Victoria Curriculum and Assessment Authority website for more information.

Background Information


In this video clip Oliver Howes, producer and director of the documentary A Place of Power in French Polynesia, talks about French Polynesia’s colonial history, its emerging nationalism and the cultural response to colonialism which had robbed the nation of its way of life. He also speaks of Tahitian poet Henri Hiro. Howes explains why his film focuses on cultural revival and on the views of ‘elite’ Tahitians.

In 1843, France established a protectorate over Tahiti and the neighbouring island of Moorea and in 1880 it extended its rule to the remaining island groups. In 1957 the area became known as the overseas territory of French Polynesia.

Life changed more rapidly for the colonised Tahitians with the opening of an international airport in 1960 and with the installation in 1963 of the Centre for Nuclear Experiment in the Pacific (CEP). The Cold War brought on the race to develop effective nuclear weapons. Testing nuclear weapons was done where people were few and powerless: the Russians tested in Central Asia; the Americans used atolls in the Marshall Islands (as well as the Nevada desert); the British used Christmas and Malden Islands as well as outback South Australia; and the French tested in the Sahara and then used Moruroa and Fangataufa atolls in French Polynesia. Testing of nuclear bombs from 1966 to 1996 and the associated military spending turned French Polynesia into a nuclear dependency of metropolitan France.

Before the colonial era, Tahitians lived in a subsistence economy; this changed under colonial rule. ManyTahitians were employed by the French military or found work in the tourist industry. Rapid urbanisation saw people leave rural areas to seek work in town where they came to depend more and more on French products, such as imported food. The territory produced approximately 25 per cent of its food in the early 1990s; it had been self-sufficient in the 1950s. From the 1960s Tahiti’s economy was an artificial economy reliant on subsidies and patronage from France.

The French stopped nuclear testing in 1996 and military spending was reduced, impacting again on the Tahitian economy which had become dependent over the years on French military spending.
Today, under certain acts of France, French Polynesia has acquired autonomy in all areas except those relating to police and justice, monetary policy, tertiary education, immigration, and defense and foreign affairs. It is still heavily reliant economically on France and heavily influenced by French language and culture.

Classroom Activities

  1. Describe the reasons why France was interested in colonising areas of Polynesia?
  2. Filmmaker Oliver Howes, clearly states that he is interested in the ‘concept of nationalism’. What do you think he means by this? In what scenes does he show his interest in the concept of nationalism? How does he show this interest in words and images? Is he biased? Should filmmakers promote one view of events?
  3. What evidence, if any, is there in the video clip that indigenous peoples are asserting their local cultural practices?
  4. Form some small groups and draw up a list of the pros and cons of France’s settlement of Tahiti. Discuss your findings with other groups. Can you think of some similarities and differences of the treatment of indigenous peoples in French Polynesia by France and of Britain’s treatment of indigenous peoples in Australia?

Further Resources


Go to Pacific Stories Learning for Interactive Compass Map with facts about the Pacific region.

For interview transcripts, books and references for this Digital Resource go to Pacific Stories, choose A Place of Power in French Polynesia, select INDEX, and go to MORE INFORMATION.