First Contact (1984)

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Released 1-Sep-2005

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Documentary Featurette-Sunday Review
Featurette-7.30 Report
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1984
Running Time 51:57 (Case: 92)
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Robin Anderson
Bob Connolly

Roadshow Home Entertainment
Starring Daniel Leahy
James Leahy
Michael Leahy
Ron Carpenter
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI Box Music Ron Carpenter

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 2.0 (256Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.29:1
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.33:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

    The filmmaking partnership of Bob Connolly and Robin Anderson made five feature documentaries between the years 1983 and 2001. These films, First Contact (1983), Joe Leahy's Neighbours (1989), Black Harvest (1992), Rats In The Ranks (1996) and Facing The Music (2001) each won numerous awards and received high critical and commercial praise. This body of work has cemented their reputation as arguably the best documentary filmmakers Australia has produced. Their contribution to the industry was acknowledged by the AFI in 1992 when Connolly and Anderson became worthy recipients of the prestigious Byron Kennedy Award.

    Bob Connolly commenced an extensive career with the ABC in 1964. Over his many years with the national broadcaster he worked as a reporter, foreign correspondent and documentary filmmaker. When he left the ABC in the late seventies, he had an invaluable grounding in documentary filmmaking.

    Robin Anderson came from a more academic background, earning degrees in Economics and Sociology. During her time at Columbia University in New York, she developed a keen interest in filmmaking. On returning to Australia in 1978, Robin joined the ABC as a researcher and subsequently met her partner in life and love, Bob Connolly . Robin managed to convince Bob that his many years of service at the ABC was causing him to become institutionalised. Bob and Robin soon decided to leave the ABC to pursue a dream of producing independent documentaries.

    The unlikely inspiration for First Contact came from a dinner with an ABC colleague, Tim Bowden. Tim discussed a project that he was working on for radio, an oral history of Australia's involvement in Papua New Guinea. A particular collection of interviews fascinated Bob and Robin and they were eager to investigate these in more detail. The story of the Leahy brothers and their incredible journey into the uncharted interior of New Guinea became the basis for Connolly and Anderson's first significant work, First Contact .

    In 1926 gold was discovered in Papua New Guinea and many companies soon opened up large scale dredging operations. But within a few years much of the production began to wind down, due to the growing scarcity in gold turnover. Many workers returned to Australia and faced the despair of the depression, while some stayed on to continue their search for the precious metal - the Leahy brothers were one such group.

    Michael, Daniel and James Leahy decided to take their search for gold further inland and journeyed into the unexplored Western Highlands. The mountain range of the interior was so massive and rugged it was believed to be uninhabited. But within these peaks were huge fertile valleys and in these valleys lived one million people, none of whom had ever had contact with an outside civilisation. This fact in itself had all the facets for a compelling documentary, but there was a revelation to this tale that brought with it a priceless historical consequence.

    The Leahy brothers documented their contact with these natives both on film and in an extensive collection of still photographs. Robin Anderson could hardly believe her eyes when Michael Leahy's son, Richard presented her with the cans of brittle film, containing moving images of one of the last genuine contacts between the so called civilised world and primitive cultures.

    First Contact is an enthralling visual document of the Leahy brother's experiences in the Western Highlands of New Guinea during the early 1930s. The film also features some extraordinary interviews with some of the highland natives that witnessed the coming of the white man. This is precious dialogue that accompanies the vision. It is filled with delightful humour, as well as a fascinating perception into the gamut of emotions experienced by these highlanders in the presence of these strange white men. Daniel and James Leahy also provide great insight into their own personal experiences, including how they dealt with the constant danger of being overrun and killed by the natives at any given time. Unfortunately, Michael Leahy died two years before the making of this documentary.

    First Contact won a swag of prestigious awards including the AFI Award for Best Documentary and the Grand Prix at the Festival Cinéma du Réel in Paris. It also received an Academy Award nomination in 1984 for Best Documentary.

    First Contact is presented as the first part in The Highlands Trilogy boxed set.

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Transfer Quality


    The video transfer for First Contact is acceptable considering the limited quality of the source material.

    The documentary is presented fullscreen in an aspect ratio of 1.29:1, not 16x9 enhanced.

    With the amount of archival footage used in the documentary and the limitations of the source material, the levels of sharpness are reasonable. Having said that, the film does display a degree of softness which is not substantial enough to be problematic. Blacks exhibited some occasional noise and shadow detail was moderate.

    Colours were soft and muted, which is consistent with the source material. There were no adverse issues with colour balance.

    There were no MPEG artefacts in this transfer. There were no significant film-to-video artefacts. The occasional presence of minor film grain was the most obvious issue. Film artefacts were mainly contained to the archival footage, and were surprisingly minimal.

    The English subtitles are in bold yellow and are burnt into the print. There are no optional subtitles available on this DVD.

    This is a single sided, dual layer disc. The layer change has been placed outside of the feature, so there is no disruption.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    The audio transfer is very basic, but quite good.

    There is one audio track on this DVD; English Dolby Digital 2.0 (256Kb/s).

    Dialogue quality is clear and concise throughout the film. I had no problems hearing and comprehending any of the narration or interviews.

    Audio sync appeared to be spot on accurate.

    The original music score by Ron Carpenter provides subtle enhancement to the story without becoming overbearing and obvious.

    The surround channels and subwoofer were not required.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


    The selection of extras is very relevant and interesting.


    The menu is of a basic design, silent, static and is 16x9 enhanced.

Featurette - Sunday Review (11:13)

     This review of First Contact on the Nine Network's Sunday program obviously dates back to the initial release of the film in 1984. The review is introduced by host Jim Waley and reviewed by resident film reviewer Peter Thompson. The review has footage from the documentary incorporated, as well as some dialogue with Bob Connolly.

Interview - Bob Connolly (26:31)

    A seemingly recent interview with Bob Connolly about First Contact which offers great insight into the film. Bob discusses all aspects of the production from original concept through to completion and the many obstacles that he and Robin Anderson encountered along the way.

Featurette - 7:30 Report (10:54)

    Along the lines of the Sunday review, this segment from the ABC program The 7:30 Report clearly dates back to the film's initial release. Here, Bob Connolly and Robin Anderson are interviewed about First Contact and discuss points about the film. Footage from the documentary is also presented between the dialogue.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    At the time of this review, there is no R1 version of First Contact.


    In his summary of First Contact, Bob Connolly modestly claims that First Contact is more a great story than a great piece of filmmaking. While his first point is certainly true, Bob's modesty disguises the fact that First Contact is indeed an astonishing piece of documentary filmmaking. First Contact also heralded a filmmaking partnership that would produce five of the best documentaries ever made in this country.

    The video and audio transfers are quite good.

    The selection of extras is highly recommended viewing.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Steve Crawford (Tip toe through my bio)
Saturday, June 10, 2006
Review Equipment
DVDJVC XV-N412, using Component output
DisplayHitachi 106cm Plasma Display 42PD5000MA (1024x1024). Calibrated with THX Optimizer. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080i.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with THX Optimizer.
AmplificationPanasonic SA-HE70 80W Dolby Digital and DTS
SpeakersFronts: Jensen SPX7 Rears: Jensen SPX4 Centre: Jensen SPX13 Subwoofer: Jensen SPX17

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