Australian-made series - a close-up on Pacific isles

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The Human Face of the Pacific PBS, Mondays, July 6-27, 10:30-11 p.m., check local listings. Produced by the Australian Film Commission. Presented on PBS by Pacific Educational Network. The Aussies are coming on PBS!

As Australia becomes more secure in its own place in the world, the country's filmmakers seem to be reaching out to alert the world to their international awareness.

First there was ``South American Journey,'' an Australian Broadcasting Corporation series airing on PBS Tuesday nights.

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Now, with the Monday premi`ere of ``The Human Face of the Pacific,'' American television becomes a beneficiary of the work of the Australian Film Commission (AFC), whose financial assistance has helped to fuel the recent spectacular growth of prestigious Australian films in the international marketplace.

In the past, a few AFC television programs were aired regionally in America, but ``The Human Face of the Pacific'' is the first to go national. The four-part series was produced by Film Australia, until recently the production arm of the AFC.

The first episode, ``Atoll Life in Kiribati,'' is a leisurely study of the idyllic lifestyle of the natives of Kiribati (known as the Gilbert Islands under British colonial administration). The crew meanders through the atolls, evesdropping on school classes, rites of puberty, fishing, and the practice of pre-Christian magic that the natives have incorporated into their Christian worship. The film ambles and rambles, with little point to make other than the obvious fact that on Kiribati ``time doesn't mean money.'' Fortunately, the later segments delve a bit deeper.

The second is ``New Caledonia: A Land in Search of Itself.'' In it, the camera looks beyond the peaceful surface of the islands to find an articulate independence movement and a serious split between the Kanak tribes and the French and other European settlers. The film, however, is essentially a potpourri of fascinating facts about New Caledonia. It tries but fails to find a single focus, a valid raison d'^etre, beyond its scenic footage.

The third segment, ``A Place of Power in French Polynesia,'' tightens the focus of the series. It examines the determination of the native population, as shown in vivid scenes of tattooing and sensuous dancing, to recapture its ethnic uniqueness from the smothering influence of the French.

Finally, in the fourth segment, ``Marshall Islands: Living With the Bomb,'' the series hits its stride. This segment is a poignant study of the people of Bikini atoll, who were moved to Rongerik atoll in 1946, before the United States tested its fifth atomic bomb. They were promised a return to their homeland, but, of course, that is not possible for at least 50 years more, until the radiation has receded. Meantime, they yearn for the old life, attributing all the evils of the 1980s to the fact that the '40s were stolen from them. It is a sad and disturbing study in disillusionment.

Areas covered by other ``Human Face'' series include Japan, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, and the Soviet Union. Perhaps PBS will negotiate for their airing soon.

Despite the travelogue ``info-tainment'' element, the ``Human Face'' series provides a welcome once-over-lightly view of an area that gets little attention in the US.

The series may inspire viewers to investigate the region in more detail.

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