Controversial PNG documentary premieres with major cuts

A controversial documentary about land rights in Papua New Guinea has premiered at a prestigious international film festival but with key pieces of footage edited out following a NSW Supreme Court injunction.

Revered former PNG politician Dame Carol Kidu won the injunction, restraining the Australian makers of The Opposition from screening footage about her role in the redevelopment of Port Moresby shanty town Paga Hill.

The 77-minute documentary by Australian filmmaker Hollie Fifer was screened at Canada's Hot Docs, the largest documentary festival in North America, on Wednesday.

It focuses on the struggle to stop the eviction of 3000 people from a decades-old squatter community to make way for an Australian-backed property development that is promising a hotel, marina and exhibition centre. It is the proposed venue for the 2018 APEC leaders' summit.

Dame Carol, the former PNG opposition leader, publicly protested against the development.

However, after retiring from politics in July 2012, she established a private company, which was later engaged by the project's developers to advise and champion its resettlement scheme.

About 20 minutes of the film was redacted even though Fifer argued in court that the cuts were the "central scenes" and the "heart of the documentary". The edited sections were replaced by a narration by Australian actress Sarah Snook.

Following a series of urgent hearings in the NSW Supreme Court last week, Dame Carol was ordered to pay $250,000 as security.

Fifer and the two production companies behind the film, Media Stockdale and Beacon Films, scrambled to re-edit the film in time for its premiere.

Excluded from the injunction was about two minutes of footage of Dame Carol protesting as bulldozers demolished homes at Paga Hill, a prominent headland on Port Moresby's Fairfax Harbour, in May 2012.

Dame Carol is seen protesting vigorously against the destruction of the settlement and being taken away by police.

This footage was excluded because it was uploaded by Dame Carol's daughter Dobi to YouTube at the time and is still available on the internet.

A three-day hearing will be held in June to determine if Fifer breached a purported contract between herself and Dame Carol and if the latter could prove she was the victim of deceptive and unconscionable conduct.

Dame Carol says she agreed to participate in filming on the understanding Fifer was producing a school project for her graduate diploma at Australian Film, Television and Radio School and that it would be about her last months in politics before retiring.

However, Fifer claims it became clear the documentary was evolving into a commercial enterprise, in part because she secured various funding grants from the ABC, Screen Australia and Screen NSW worth $95,000.

The Opposition's producer Rebecca Barry said the court's decision meant that serious investigative journalism had been "censored" and raised "serious questions on the issue of freedom of speech".

"It would seem that there are powerful forces who don't want this film to be seen, but we believe that audiences should have the right to make up their own minds," Barry said.

"This story is too important not to be told and we will be defending the film strongly when the final hearing takes place in June."

But Dame Carol refuted the allegation she was attempting to stifle free speech.

"I am not trying to restrict freedom of the media but I would like to insist on balanced and responsible reporting - particularly by foreigners in a sovereign nation," she said.

She also denied the implication she had "swapped sides" after retiring from politics and taking a short-term consultancy with the developers.

She said it was not unusual that the company was contributing to her legal fees.

"I realised quite late in the saga that my consent for a student assignment to be done about my political life has been abused and absolutely fundamentally changed and that The Opposition as engineered by them was factually incorrect in parts and also extremely biased and unbalanced," she said.

Snook is best known for her work in the TV miniseries The Secret River, based on the novel by Kate Grenville, and The Beautiful Lie, a modern re-make of Tolstoy's Anna Karenina.

She was nominated for a string of awards following her role in the 2015 Kate Winslet movie The Dressmaker.