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Conversations about ecological conversion


Helping hands: The eco-warriors were all involved in a reforestation project in Tembak.

RISE OF THE ECO-WARRIORS: Feature Documentary on DVD. Starring Dr Willie Smits. Produced-directed by Cathy Henkel. 105 minutes. Rated PG.

Reviewed By Robin Williams

THE capacity for individuals to make a difference and protect the world we live in is the dominant theme in Rise of the Eco-Warriors.

A group of 15 young people from nine nations are chosen from a worldwide call to travel to the jungles of Borneo and meet with trained forester, microbiologist and conservationist Dr Willie Smits.

Their task is to spend 100 days on the ground in an effort to fight deforestation and save endangered species.

The stakes are raised when the group is entrusted with orphaned baby orang-utan Jojo, who is to be reintroduced into the wild.

Director Cathy Henkel presses a lot of buttons when it comes to issues such as ecological conversion, social justice and consumer-driven greed.

The problems the indigenous population and local flora and fauna face come thick and fast once the eco-warriors embark on a river journey with Dr Smits to local Dayak communities.

Deforestation for palm oil plantations and illegal gold-mining and logging operations are rampant along the way.

Dr Smits has negotiated an agreement with Dayak communities for a release site for the orang-utans on the outskirts of a village called Tembak, in the Western Kalimantan region of Borneo, but deforestation due to palm oil plantations will have a direct impact on their plans and Jojo’s future.

The documentary is split into two parts.

The first covers an initial 20 days spent in the jungle assessing the problems and canvasing possible actions the eco-warriors can take to make a difference.

The second requires a lot more commitment on the part of the eco-warriors.

They are asked to make a commitment to spend a further 80 days on the ground implementing some of the plans and actions identified from the first visit, including reforestation projects.

To do this they must leave their jobs, pay their own way, and initiate major fundraising and awareness campaigns before they return.

Four don’t return but for the 11 who do the work begins in earnest.

When their leader Dr Smits has to leave for other international commitments the eco-warriors must rely on their own strengths and passion to see the project through and achieve their stated goals.

Rise of the Eco-Warriors offers a unique insight into the effects of first-world consumerism on the planet we live on and in particular the everyday life and future of an indigenous population that becomes an innocent victim of that consumerism.

Borneo’s natural assets are captured with stunning cinematography, and the local Dayak people are portrayed with respect.

Perhaps a little long at 105 minutes, this is a film that prompts conversations on ecological conversion and the demands our household consumables have on the wider world.

In all, this is a film for the whole family to enjoy.

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