Video this: Environmental destruction in Southeast Asia

Folks from EngageMedia provided a number of workshops on Video for Change at the 2009 and 2013 Info-Activism Camps. In this article, EngageMedia’s Seelan Palay shares three videos from Indonesia that highlight the different ways video can be used to support environmental advocacy.

The rapid rate of development in Southeast Asia in recent years has led to rampant environmental degradation. From the widespread deforestation caused by the palm oil industry, to horrific levels of urban pollution, to the consequences of climate change, the region faces an alarming outlook.

Alongside environmental NGOs and lobby groups, independent journalists, filmmakers and grassroots communities have been increasingly using video and on/offline distribution to highlight these escalating issues.

At EngageMedia, during the past eight years, we’ve supported video production in the region and we’ve built an open source software platform to collate, curate, and distribute these videos. Since early 2012, we’ve also integrated the open source subtitling software widget, Amara, into our platform and we’ve built a team of volunteer subtitlers and translators who help make these videos available to an even wider audience.

Here, we present to you three noteworthy environmental videos from our Indonesian archives. These videos exemplify some of the rich mix of video forms and contexts that we call Video for Change. They include a witnessing and documenting video, a grassroots social documentary made during a workshop, and a video made by a professional production house. We hope that these videos help demonstrate how the moving image is being used to present information and produce evidence, with the goal of supporting positive environmental action.

Ironic Survival (English)

In September 2013, while we were conducting video training sessions with our partners in Merauke, West Papua, we heard that a group of Yale University academics were organising a talk on the Merauke Integrated Food and Energy Estate (MIFEE) project in the New Haven Campus. MIFEE covers an area of over 1.2 million hectares, and in the process, planned to clear hectares of traditional sago forests, the main food source for most of the local population.

Since we were in the area and met the academics, we offered to make a video that shows what the local people think about the MIFEE project. We spent an entire day travelling to one of the affected villages, where we met and talked with villagers and shot footage to illustrate their stories and experiences. We spent the following day editing, and almost the whole of the third day uploading the five minute video (Merauke has serious bandwidth issues).

After the video was published, we started to get a lot of online plays. For several weeks in September 2013, was the third most opened site in Merauke, after Google and Facebook. But because the video was only available in English, one of the workshop participants, Leo, decided to make a longer version in Indonesian. Then, with his beat-up motorcycle and small notebook, he went around and showed it to the villagers. The longer video, a version which won’t make the cut for city folks, urged community leaders to think twice before selling off their lands to companies.

Menambang di Piring Petani (Mining the Farmer’s Plate) (Indonesian)

Menambang di Piring Petani (Mining the Farmer’s Plate), is a film about the struggle of farmers in the village of Topogaro in Indonesia, to oppose a legal mining operation that is set to take over their field.

The video itself was a collaboration that began at Kickstart2010, an annual workshop pioneered by In-Docs, a well-known institution in Jakarta that promotes documentary video. For KickStart2010, a team from In-Docs traveled to Central Sulawesi and conducted a month-long video production training with local video-maker groups.

Menambang di Piring Petani, which runs for 15 minutes, took the young participants almost least three months to complete. In all, they produced four films that related to fundamental problems in Central Sulawesi such as education, poverty in coastal areas, farmers’ rights, and health.

After these short film’s were launched in Palu, the capital province of Central Sulawesi, they and their directors toured Central Sulawesi to ensure the videos could be seen by non-internet users and discussed in community settings.

Indigenous Peoples: Guardians of Indonesian Forest (English)

This expansive and well-produced documentary, by Gekko Studio features Indigenous peoples from Papua to Sumatra, sharing about the importance of forests to them, and explaining how they have proven themselves to be their faithful guardians.

The problems faced by the various communities are grave and similar, such as large-scale oil palm plantations and mining concessions. The film also relates how they are fighting to save the biodiversity and the lives of the people in the over 15 million hectares of pristine customary forests that currently remain.

Through this production, the filmmakers urge “everyone to think clearly, especially the Indonesian government to place their complete trust in these communities to sustainably manage forests.”

EngageMedia brought this video to screen for the first time in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where the film was very well-received and spurred active comments from the audience, some of whom had previously never realised the full extent of environmental damage that was happening in their neighbouring country.

Article by Seelan Palay from EngageMedia (@engagemedia) with contributions from Enrico Aditjondro and Yerry Nico Borang. EngageMedia are part of the Video for Change network.