The chance discovery of a rare photographic record of four New Guinean islands in the Bismark Archipelago, nearly a 100 years after they are taken, leads to a journey uncovering the life of a young surveyor, his time on the islands and subsequent escape from the invading Japanese Army 25 years later.

Synopsis

FRANK OAKLEY CUTLER was a surveyor and amateur photographer who worked across the Bismark Archipelago from 1917 to 1919. Frank was a member of Australia’s expeditionary forces to the former German colony of New Guinea. He recorded his early life there, processing photographs where they were taken, leaving an intimate portrait of his interactions with forest dwellers and coastal villagers.

Ninety-eight years later CHRIS DAVEY and his cousin ANNE MUSGROVE discover Frank’s photo albums. They had never seen these photographs and knew very little about Frank’s life in New Guinea after his war service ended. He rarely discussed his life there.

With their surviving parents ageing Anne, a retired English teacher, began to piece together Frank’s earlier life. She interviewed members of her family and rigorously investigated the vast store of information available from the Australian War Memorial and the National Library of Australia’s Trove internet archive. What she discovered about Frank would lead her to VICTOR PRATT, an enterprising former plantation owner with whom Frank developed a little-known relationship with. More questions arise as Anne makes contact with Victor’s grandson, VAUGHAN PRATT, Professor Emeritus at Stanford University and a computer science pioneer.

In 1920 Frank formed a business partnership with Victor, taking up a plantation together. They named it Cutarp. When the Japanese occupied New Guinea they imprisoned hundreds of Australians. Victor led a small resistance. He was eventually captured and executed. This was not widely known until records became available through Trove. Many others, including entire families, were on the ill-fated Japanese freighter Montevideo Maru torpedoed by a US submarine. Frank managed to escape early in the occupation arriving in Cairns in February 1942. The subject of his lucky escape and the contrasting tragic outcome for Victor were never discussed with his family.

Told through Anne’s rigorous efforts to discover Frank’s New Guinea world, interviews with specialist photographers, writers, anthropologists and Papua New Guinea nations, Finding Frank gives voice to the Islanders he met, those who worked with him and to Frank himself who shared little of his experiences there once he had returned to Australia.

Finding Frank interweaves Frank’s intimate photographs with the locations and descendants of his New Guinea subjects across the Bismark Archipelago. His photographs are shown to villagers at open-air evening screenings, their reactions captured as Frank’s portraits are returned to where they were taken 100 years later.

Press kit

Status

Fund-raising towards production with the financial assistance of the Documentary Australia Foundation. Tax deductible donations can be made direct to Finding Frank.

Crew

  • Writer / Director – Andrew Garton
  • Researcher – Anne Musgrove

Acknowledgements

Thanking Director of Photography Mike Wilkins for his efforts in the early stages of pre-production, particularly in providing such a high standard of work towards our preliminary interviews, which were shot by Mike, and our trailer.

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