Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Cathy Henkel.
One of the key films that screened at the recent Transitions Film Festival is Rise Of The Eco-warriors, an environmentally friendly, earnest and well meaning documentary. The film follows a group of fifteen Gen-Yers from different countries who give up their life of comfort and ease to head off to the wilds of Borneo for 100 days to try and make a difference to farmers whose way of life is threatened by illegal logging and the palm oil industry.
The youths work under the guidance of Dr Willie Smits, an environmental activist who has been working in the area for years, and has been actively campaigning for more funds and assistance to try and combat the illegal logging that is polluting the local rivers and water supplies and also to combat the palm oil industry that is ravaging farmlands. Smits sent out a worldwide plea to enlist help from concerned schools and communities around the world and established an innovative program called Earthwatchers. The fifteen we meet here were selected from over 200 entries received from around the world, who all expressed their passion and commitment for environmental causes. They hail from Australia, the US, Canada, France, Singapore and even Kenya.
They travel into some inhospitable areas, remote forests, sleep in rudimentary accommodation and communal long huts and try to survive without many of their usual creature comforts. The harsh conditions and physical activities and the rustic lifestyle takes its toll on them at times, and sometimes tensions arise within the group.
The group is broken into four smaller groups, and each group is assigned a specific task. One group works with abandoned orang utans to build a rehabilitation facility and help ease them back into their natural habitat. Another group prepares local farmers to plant sugar plum trees as a viable replacement for palm oil plantations. A third group educate local school children to environmental issues through a series of performances. The last group work on developing a satellite system to try an enlist the help of a global network of schools to increase awareness of key environmental issues.
Veteran Australian documentary filmmaker Cathy Henkel and her small crew followed these environmental activists during the 100 days they spent in the wilds of Borneo. Henkel obviously has a keen interest and passion for environmental concerns as her previous film was the Emmy nominated documentary The Burning Season, which was about a quest to save the rainforests and unique ecosystems of Indonesia. This was obviously an arduous shoot for Henkel and her crew, who worked under trying conditions in the remote locations. But cinematographer Ismail Fahmi Lubish has captured the daunting nature of their assignments, and he has provided some stunning images of the landscape and surroundings. His images effectively highlight the damage being done to the environment.
Jojo, an abandoned orang utan being cared for at the rehabilitation facility, is a real charmer and steals scenes from his human counterparts. The subplot following Jojo is a moving one, and resonates more strongly than a couple of the other narrative strands Henkel pursues.
One weaknesses of this passionate documentary is that we don’t get enough background information on the fifteen eco-warriors. Rise Of The Eco-warriors is obviously preaching to the converted with its overt environmental messages, and its clarion call for action may go unheeded by more mainstream audiences.