Dark Tourist—a travel documentary series on Netflix—opens with this line. David Farrier, a New Zealand-based journalist introduces himself and the episode the audiences are about to encounter. For people with wanderlust, yes, it’s must-watch. But with its macabre twist on tourism, it’s not hard to imagine why the show is at the top of the streaming platform’s ‘Popular’ section.
Throughout 8 episodes in a season, Farrier explores the most bizarre cultures, customs, and rituals around the world. As a critical and inquisitive journalist, he tries not to judge, he deals with every challenge in each country with utmost respect to local customs.
He has visited Pablo Escobar’s former prison (“La Catedral”) in Colombia and has gone to the “suicide forest” in Japan. He’s explored a former nuclear testing area with high levels of radiation in Kazakhstan. He’s also tried voodoo rituals in Africa. Farrier goes beyond visiting a place as a mere tourist; he explores and investigates unique phenomena and seeks to be part of it first-hand.
One such place Farrier dived deep into was Indonesia. He even and took part in the Ma’Nene rituals of its Toraja people.
For many, Indonesia exudes a certain mystical charm for its a place beyond the beaten path. And depending on who you’re asking, it can go from different to strange to taboo. But again for a person like Farrier, strange is normal.
“In Indonesia, I learned not to be afraid of death”, says Farrier, in his interview with The Crafters. (And yes, if you’re wondering, we managed to interview him!)
For some background, the following interview you will get to read is shot in the dark that managed to hit its target. Casually sending Farrier a message on Instagram, these writers were surprised to get an affirmative response.
In this interview, Farrier talks about the extensive research he undertakes before he starts the filming in a particular location. He also says Indonesia is one of the places he would like to revisit. Here he shares many anecdotes from his experiences—some outrageous, others quirky, some others cannot even begin to imagine. Read on below.
I made a documentary film titled Tickled in 2016. The documentary tells the story of a conman who tricks young people online from around the world. It was truly a crazy journey of more than two years and. in the end, I was able to show the film at the Sundance Film Festival, HBO, and Netflix Indonesia—if I’m not mistaken. Anyway, a TV producer in New Zealand saw it and liked it. He too, 10 years ago, had a similar idea to make a series on dark tourism and that I was the right person to work on the series with him.
Dark tourism is a term for a travel experience that is not the ordinary kind or one which people normally go for when they travel. (NO, it does not imply there is anything sinister.)
Usually, on such tours, people will take part in excursions which could be considered strange. Some of these places have a ‘dark side’ to them, such as death, etc. But what we found is that, at the end of the day, these places are not just talking about death, but rather about they talk about how we should celebrate life. I feel very fortunate to be able to visit these places while investigating dark tourism in the world—like Fukushima in Japan, or the location which has been affected by most nuclear bombs in the world, Kazakhstan.
Ha, thank you! I too like these shorts, as you can see, because I often wear them in the Dark Tourist! I don’t have a stylist—I’m not that famous!! And in the Dark Tourist, I only wear everyday clothes, nothing special.
The person you see in the Dark Tourist is the real me. I often wear bright and colorful clothes even in places that don’t look completely normal. I think it’s very important to always be yourself!
I really want to revisit two places: Japan and Indonesia. I’m not saying this just because you’re from Indonesia! In truth, I feel that the people in these two countries are very kind and are very enthusiastic. One of my good friends, an artist, his father lives in Bali, so I want to visit him someday. Also, my musician friend Amelia is an Indonesian; her stage name is Fazerdaze. She has visited Indonesia several times and the Indonesians really like her music. I also want to see Amelia perform for an audience in her hometown. It’s not dark, but I want to see it.
Do a lot of research and know what you will do as much as possible before you start the production. This also includes involving people whose help you will need; local people best understand the place and local setup (customs, norms, etc.). This way, you will be more knowledgeable and sensitive to local customs, because the last thing you want to do is make a mistake or behave disrespectfully. Respect is key. So, do research, find the right support in the places you will visit before you go there. When talking about shows like Dark Tourist, it’s all a matter of teamwork. One part is to make our team based in New Zealand work well with the local teams in the areas that we visit, such as Toraja.
Thank you for the compliment, hahaha! I think all along, my biggest mission has been for the Tickled investigations. Oh, and making films – which require travel (other than New Zealand) to Los Angeles and New York. I also need enough time to write on davidfarrier.com. I am working on an investigative-article about this Artificial Intelligence (AI) called “Zach.” It is used by doctors in New Zealand. And this paper requires a lot of legal licensing. To write an article, series or film, I need a lot of time and research, of course!
There are a few people that can take care of you. First, the camera person—the person who accompanies you the most during the shooting will definitely help take care of you. Also, usually I’m with a guide who helps me communicate with the locals. Sometimes, we bring security —albeit rarely—but it is clear that in some places, security is required. It doesn’t make sense to die if you can avoid it—it’s not worth it!
Obviously, you have to listen carefully to the locals who work with you. They know more about it. For cases like Popeye—Pablo Escobar’s man—you should be able to read the situation and be aware of what he is thinking.
During filmings, we continue to see each other (the crew) and triy reading the situations we were in at that time. After all, doing things like swimming in a nuclear-contaminated lake and eating a fish from the lake … is ridiculous. I shouldn’t have done that. Sometimes though, you just have to go for a swim on a hot day!
I learned that even in the midst of struggles and difficult times, humans can be very good and tough. Indeed, many bad things are happening out there – however, we need to always remember about the friendliness and beauty of humans.
I loved my visit to Indonesia. The part I liked most is the fact that death is a very respected subject and is not covered up there. Small children and adults are well aware of the meaning of death. And the things they do to respect their ancestors are very beautiful. I feel very honored and fortunate to be a part of their ritual. In the east, we tend to bury and forget death. In my opinion, this might actually be unhealthy.
When I was in Indonesia, I felt quite uneasy seeing animals getting sacrificed, but I really appreciated the fact that no meat was wasted and everyone participated in the ritual. I feel we have to understand and know where our food comes from. (Don’t just buy a stupid burger from McDonald’s!) I have huge amounts of respect for the people there, and the respect they gave us was greatly appreciated. I feel very lucky, also a little sick because of the rocky terrain!
I’m interested in the unique Pasola* competition on Sumba; how that event continues to this day. I’ve only heard about this somewhere, so I want to do some research first before I visit.
*Pasola is a spear-fighting competition, played by throwing wooden spears at the opponent while riding a horse. It is usually held to celebrate the rice-planting season.
To be honest, I wanted to go and watch it alone, to enjoy local music and meet people there who might have watched Dark Tourist. Ask them for places to recommend. There are many hidden gems there.
I learned that even in the midst of struggles and difficult times, humans can be very good and tough. Indeed, many bad things are happening out there—however, we need to always remember the friendliness and beauty of humans. I am very lucky to have gotten the opportunity to travel and meet many people. I like the fact that we all live so different lives, and there are many different things we can learn from each other. Like in Indonesia, I learned not to be afraid of death.