The Burning Season
Credits: Directed by Cathy Henkel
Details: (PG), 90 mins, Australia, English
Synopsis: Dorjee Sun, a 29-year-old entrepreneur, believes there's money to be made from saving rainforests in Indonesia and making a real impact on climate change. Armed with a laptop and a backpack, he sets out across the globe to find investors in his scheme. Meanwhile, another burning season gets underway. A small-scale farmer wrestles with the dilemma of clearing his land. And at her rehabilitation centre in Borneo, a wildlife carer battles overcrowding and despair as more orangutans are rescued from the fires.
A level-headed approach to a hot-button issue.
Cathy Henkel’sThe Burning Season is an environmental call to arms in a similar vein to An Inconvenient Truth; it’s a dire warning about the impact of climate change, with a charismatic human dynamo as its central protagonist. But where An Inconvenient Truth used a PowerPoint presentation in a darkened auditorium to devastating effect, The Burning Season takes its message out in the field to focus on damaging farming practices in Indonesia.
The so-called 'burning season' refers to the land-clearing techniques employed by Indonesian farmers. Unable to afford expensive earth-moving equipment, they resort to ‘agricultural arson’, razing their land in order to clear it and plant their new crops. The practice is widespread and results in thick clouds of pollution spreading across the region and threatening air quality as far afield as Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei. The fires burn for months at a time and render homeless whatever wildlife manages to escape the blaze.
The sight of singed Orangutans emerging from the smouldering forest is deeply affecting but Henkel wisely avoids reducing the film to a simplistic condemnation of those who would light the fires. Rather than blast the farmers for wanton destruction of the environment, she introduces their side of the story, via farmer Achmadi. Achmadi supports his family with a palm-oil plantation and burns his land not out of ignorance of the environmental impact but simply for lack of alternatives; in a raw moment, Achmadi breaks down when considering his dilemma; he wants to do the right thing but he simply can’t afford to without sacrificing his daughter’s education.
Enter the eternally optimistic, khaki-clad Australian entrepreneur Dorjee Sun, a born salesman with dual law and business degrees, who sees the value in changing the Indonesian landscape for the better. He devises a plan to replace deforestation with a carbon trading scheme: farmers like Achmadi would be employed as protectors of the forests and Sun's company would trade the value of their newly green land as carbon credits on the international exchange.
Sun has the kind of infectious optimism that could sell ice to Eskimos (alarmingly, that's not as ridiculous a proposition as it once was). In The Burning Season we see him in full flight, locking in exclusive trading agreements with Sumatran and Papuan leaders, and spruiking the scheme to the big end of town in London, New York and Washington, to secure backers for his $105 million forest protection fund. His business model rests on avoided desforestation being included a roadmap to a new protocol to replace Kyoto in 2012; the film’s drama reaches its zenith as Sun awaits the outcome of the vote on the roadmap at the 2007 climate change conference in Bali (at which Australia belatedly comes to the Kyoto party).
With warm narration by Hugh Jackman and engaging animation that gives context to the data, the film is a solid, balanced and effective effort to make a sustained and sensible difference.
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