Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Background to the Films 4 Forests Project

As international demand for palm oil increases, Indonesian rainforest is being cleared at an ever-increasing rate to make way for plantation expansion. Many plantations in Indonesia are subject to conflict over land rights disputes. Thousands of indigenous people who rely on natural forests for their home and survival are finding that they are powerless to stop the conversion of their land. The new demand for palm oil as a biofuel (perversely an “environmentally friendly” alternative to fossil fuels) is a further reason for urgent action. The escalation of these problems is imminent.

There is, however, reason for hope – the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil is an industry and NGO forum that is making great steps forward in the regulation of this industry. Last year our “Orangutan and human: Conflict mitigation training video” was adopted by many RSPO members both on the production side and in the NGO sectors, this film in turn was funded by the UK supermarket ASDA. This project provided a great insight into how better communications between the often vocally opposed sectors could bring benefit to all. It is with this in mind that we formulated the Films4Forests project concept and believe it will prove a valuable addition to dialogue at RSPO RT5.

Sumatra's Forests

Films 4 Forests: Project Objectives

The aim of this project is produce at least 5 short films which are a medium for, and part of the process in, establishing dialogue and understanding between forest people, NGOs, industry and government. Both local people and industry will benefit from constructive dialogue and developing a better understanding of each sector’s motivations and dilemmas. The final films, made available to RSPO as case studies, will also provide examples of best practice and successful partnership.

Our production and ground support teams will be crewed by Indonesians. This approach will help facilitate Indonesian involvement in the project and provide media training and capacity building. The crew of each film will include two interns from an NGO background (one from an environmental NGO plus one from a social NGO), who will be trained throughout the course of the production. This will also help ensure Indonesian authorship of the films. The training the interns receive will enable them to become part of the pilot scheme for the SENAN network (Social and Environmental News Advocates Network – a multi-NGO partnership concept, currently in development). Through their employment in the production of the films, local people develop skills which can be imparted to the rest of the community, encouraging community development. Our core staff will act as facilitators – overseeing production and distribution of the films. We have successfully worked in partnership with Indonesian education and ground support teams in previous projects. Their input was essential in guiding an anthropologically informed and culturally sensitive perspective.

Film 1: Voices 4 Forests

This short film will be comprised of oral testimonies collected within the forest communities living in Jambi and Riau provinces. The testimonies will focus on the impact and effect of palm oil expansion on the quality of daily life, income, health and experience, and their hopes and fears for the future. We will endeavour to ensure that all the many voices within the forest community are represented – so not just the community leaders and elders but also the opinions, experiences, and voices of women, and children, if possible. We anticipate that this film will be approximately 10 minutes in length.

Film 2: Conversations 4 Conservation

This film will involve three stages. The initial stage will be the screening of Voices4Forests to palm oil plantation managers. Their reactions to the testimonies given by the forest communities will be filmed and documented. The plantation managers will then have the opportunity to respond on camera, and answer any issues, criticisms, or questions raised by those speaking in Voices4Forests. The responses of the plantation managers will then be shown to the forest people, and their responses and reactions will also be filmed. Finally, an edited final film will be produced which is a synopsis of every stage in this process – a filmed conversation or dialogue, in a sense. This version will be made available to the RSPO, local and national government officials, and to representatives from environmental and social NGOs. It will also be made available globally through our online library of conservation films at We anticipate that this final film will be approximately 15 – 20 minutes in length.

Film 3: Evidence 4 Conservation

This film will be comprised of largely unedited versions of the interviews carried out for films 1 & 2. Amongst nomadic forest people where oral tradition and history are very strong, film is the perfect medium with which to document opinion and record testimony – it draws upon a means of communication that is both comfortable and familiar. In areas where very little is written down or documented, a filmed documentary record can be an invaluable asset when it comes to engaging in legal processes. For this reason we believe that it will be useful to produce a longer uncut version of the interviews shot with the forest people and those from the plantations and make this available for use by NGOs, forest communities, and the RSPO. Each interview will include the interviewee’s name, position / occupation, location and the date. We plan to make this set of full interviews available on a DVD and as a separate page on (obviously dependent on receiving the consent of the interviewees).

Film 4: Collaborate 4 Conservation

The Sumatran Tiger Conservation Project (STCP) as a Case Study for Success

This film will focus predominantly on the work of the Sumatran Tiger Conservation Project, based in Taman Nasional Bukit Tigapuluh. STCP has, over the years, adopted a successful model of conservation in the national park which has not only seen the amount of tiger poaching decrease, but has also helped maintain and improve the traditional way of life for those forest people living within the park’s boundaries. STCP have achieved their success by pursuing a conservation model that focuses on community development, local collaboration, and industry communication.

The film will be comprised of footage shot with the staff manager at STCP, members of the STCP Tiger Protection Unit (recruited from within the local communities), and ex-poachers who are now collaborating with the team in an advisory role. It will potentially also include excerpts from the interviews shot for films 1 &2. We envisage that this film will be approximately 15 – 20 minutes in length. It will be made available for screening at RSPO (as a document of some of the successes occurring in the region and as a model for positive collaboration between local people, NGOs, and industry), and again will be available online at

Film 5: Forests 4 Indonesia

This film will be a scripted film focusing on the benefits of sustainable forest management in Indonesia and explaining some of the long-term consequences of unchecked deforestation. It will explain the ways in which sustainable land management relates to the basic priorities of ensuring the legal and traditional rights of people, the protection of high conservation value (HCV) forest and endangered species, and the provision of clean air and clean water. The film will also include some of the processes involved in procuring sustainably produced non-timber forest products (e.g. fishing, rattan, honey). It will be translated into both Indonesian and English, and we anticipate that it will be approximately 5-10 minutes in length. This film will be used as a flagship film for the films4conservation website initiative.

The Importance of Film

The final films will be a valuable addition to the Films4Conservation online film library (which will be available to all those with internet connection), as well as to existing education projects and outreach initiatives through the production of DVDs/VCDs.

In terms of using films as a means of establishing and developing knowledge and dialogue, UNEP/UNESCO GAFI have carried out research which shows that film is one of the most effective toosl in affecting both policy and opinion change for Indonesian audiences. Film is an especially powerful tool to achieve this in forest areas where literacy levels are low – even a short film can enable communication of complex issues and ideas effectively and often with more poignancy than the written word. Whereas a busy politician or plantation manager might not take the time to read a long written report, a film can convey the same information in a more accessible and less time consuming format. Amongst nomadic forest people where oral tradition and history are very strong, film is the perfect medium with which to document their opinions and gather testimony – it draws upon a means of communication with which they are comfortable and familiar. In areas where very little is written down or documented, a filmed documentary record can be an invaluable asset when it comes to engaging in legal processes.