2009 Tribeca Film Festival - The Burning Season - April 27, 2009
Monday, April 27
Ira Flatow, host of NPR’s Talk of the Nation: Science Friday
Cathy Henkel, filmmaker
Elizabeth Rosenthal, NY Times international correspondent
Dorjee Sun, CEO of the Carbon Conservation and star of the film
The Burning Season was a charming film, following the main character, ambitious entrepreneur Dorjee Sun, as opposed to preaching about rain forests and the horrors that orangutans face. I know someone who saw a prior cut of the film that said it had shots of a running orangutan’s butt on fire. In this cut they instead use these human-like primates as more of a mascot. They personify a message. Four to 5,000 orangutans are killed a year—a rate that will cause early extinction. This paints a depressing picture for a theme: orangutans are so close to us as humans, if they go, how long will it take for us to go along with them?
The film was fairly sprinkled with commentary from policy makers and small farmers. It outlines Sun’s vision for a Carbon Trading system. You see that he is really just trying to solve a problem more than tell you trading carbon credits is the be all, end all solution and the filmmaker seems to treat that fairly. There were moments with animation that were very stylized, which was cool, but just didn’t seem to organically fit the overall feel of the film.
The idea for a film related to global warming was conceived when Cathy Henkel when she first saw An Inconvenient Truth in 2006. The burning season is when Indonesian farmers burn the land for palm oil and have no regard for the pollution or their contributions to global warming. As an Aussie, the filmmaker knew of the plumes of smoke and researched it.
Henkel met Sun at a film finance party. He was the solution for making the film. He called her to ask how to save orangutans, she pitched the idea to these broadcasters from Sydney and they gave her development money. Sun felt the world lost someone doing good when we lost Steve Irwin so he wanted to connect with his wife and his memory when executing this idea.
Sun says that it’s not easy to say “stop cutting and burning.” We also need to solve the issues with employment, etc. The small farmer needs income and should not be blamed for the world’s problems. The film illustrates this well with a guy who just wants to feed his family send his daughter to a good school. They end his story arch with his grasping of the effect his work has on the planet. Even though he is not one of the corporate farms who do it on a large scale, he broke down when he realized his contributions.
China invited the film to play in their country. Representatives said that it was perfect for young Chinese entrepreneurial students at universities who want to be motivated by environmental films made for a wide audiences—not an environmentalists niche. Henkel has a 16 year old daughter and does not want her to be despondent.
One of Sun's investors, Merrill Lynch, has to date, put money in London Commodity fund—a holding account. When transparency is covered by due diligence and written off by legal, then the brokerage will officially have bought carbon credits to kick-start Sun's vision. A state government in Indonesia will finally get paid back as they have been fronting the money in the mean time.
Carbon Trading happens to be a debated issue—opponents claim the message is dangerous. Sun’s view is that he wants to place value on standing forests. The film gets across his idea for compensating Indonesia for keeping the rain forests alive as opposed to burning it for the palm oil revenues. Hecklers in the audience stood to challenge Sun who was not only undaunted but quite pleasant in explaining how he wants to be an entrepreneur stepping up as environmentalists always have, yet with the language that makes the world go around—with money.
The bottom line is that we have to try something. Sun seems adamant that even though it’s possible for his proposed solution to fail, it’s better than doing nothing. He’s a kid who woke up one morning and wanted to save the world, and is doing the best he can.