Shaman's journey revealed in What Lies That Way documentary

A Victoria University film lecturer has immersed himself in the spiritual realm to make a new documentary.

What Lies That Way explores Paul Wolffram's gruelling initiation into the secret world of magic and sorcery in Papua New Guinea.

His trip to the other side began 16 years ago, when as part of his PhD Wolffram travelled to a remote part of the nation to study the music and dance of the Lak people.

As his relationship with the community grew, he was inspired to learn how it was composed.

"I explained that I was interested in understanding their creativity in the same way they did," he told Newshub.

But to do that, he had to become a shaman, a spiritual cult leader - which required a gruelling initiation in 2015.

"There's only three or four living shaman within the region, because unbeknownst to me when I went through the initiation I thought more people had done it, but a lot of people try but don't complete it," Wolffram said.

To help a Western audience understand this normally secretive practice, Wolffram turned the camera on himself.

The result is What Lies That Way, premiering at the New Zealand International Film Festival.

"It's not about me, I'm the vehicle through which the audience will experience this very different way of understanding the world," he said.

As part of the ordeal, he spent four days and five nights without food or water. 

"Every day the shaman would come and join me, and we'd just sing songs over and over again, and then I was left by myself. So if you like it was kind of an intensified meditation," Wolffram said.

Wolffram said that the movie isn't a 'how to' guide on the initiation process, and as a mark of respect the film keeps many of the practices - and psychoactive substances - secret.

But Wolffram himself is laid bare, and being used to staying behind the camera he admits it was sometimes uncomfortable watching himself be so vulnerable.

"After three days without drinking you also don't sleep. Your brain can't shut down at night, so you begin to dream while you're awake," he said.

One challenge was recreating the feeling of travelling inside his head, onto film - so he used drone shots to take the viewer on a journey.

"The way I've translated that to make it understandable to a Western audience is shots flying over the rainforest. So each night you travel to different important spiritual place in the landscape."

Poor cellphone coverage meant he couldn't tell his wife back in New Zealand how the initiation went.

"She was pretty nervous and relieved when she finally heard from me."

Wolffram says since showing the movie to the Lak people, some have expressed their desire to become a shaman too. 

But he doesn't expect the same response from students of his film classes.